ALBUM TITLE: Nielsen
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 5 & 6
PERFORMER: New York Philharmonic/Alan Gilbert
CATALOGUE NO: 6.220625 (hybrid CD/SACD)
It was a bold move for the Danish label Dacapo to mark the 150th anniversary of its country’s greatest composer by allocating a new cycle of his six symphonies to an American orchestra and conductor. But it’s paid off, in a series of performances of high quality, which do justice to Nielsen’s mastery of the orchestra and unique musical personality.
The magnificent Fifth Symphony moves convincingly from the apparently sterile wasteland of its opening to the warmth and nobility of the following Adagio; and the struggle between the flow of that Adagio and the attempts to disrupt it by an improvising side-drummer is successfully brought off. The second movement sets out with a swing, before its panicky first fugue collapses in a suitably wild fashion. I missed only the sense of the slow second fugue as a turning-point, gradually restoring a damaged personality to health. But throughout the work the woodwind are recorded (at least in stereo) with insufficient presence, downplaying some of their most incisive interventions.
There are no such balance problems in the clear, transparent textures of the ‘simple’ Sixth – except for a distant perspective on the glockenspiel that makes many telling interventions in the score. Here Gilbert leads his New York players in a faithful, virtuosic rendering of all Nielsen’s volatile swings between dead-pan facetious and deadly serious. And he brings out what affinities there are with the earlier symphonies, so that this enigmatic work claims its place as the conclusion of Nielsen’s great cycle. Anthony Burton