Nielsen: Symphonies Nos 2 & 3

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COMPOSERS: Carl Nielsen
ALBUM TITLE: Nielsen: Symphonies Nos 2 & 3
WORKS: Symphony No. 2 (The Four Temperaments); Symphony No. 3 (Sinfonia espansiva)
PERFORMER: Lucy Hall (soprano), Marcus Farnsworth (baritone); London Symphony Orchestra/Colin Davis


For those of us who love Carl Nielsen’s utterly individual, life-enhancing symphonies, it was gratifying that Sir Colin Davis should have added them to his repertoire during his remarkable ‘Indian summer’ as president of the London Symphony Orchestra. This disc, which completes the cycle on LSO Live, was recorded at four concerts in December 2011, though there’s no audible audience noise and no applause. The recording doesn’t entirely escape the somewhat cramped Barbican acoustic, with the tutti sound dominated by the LSO’s vibrato-heavy trumpet section, and (in the stereo balance) the violins sometimes reduced to a spidery presence – or obliterated altogether, for example by the over-obtrusive solo voices in the slow movement of No. 3.

Davis approaches both works with driving energy, knocking nearly six minutes off the overall timing of Alan Gilbert’s live recording of the same works with the New York Philharmonic (on a Dacapo disc reviewed in January 2013). The ‘phlegmatic’ scherzo of No. 2 seems to bowl along too cheerfully (though Davis’s tempo is still just under Nielsen’s metronome mark), while the ‘melancholic’ slow movement loses some of its tragedy in a welter of sharp accents; the slow movement of No. 3 hurries through its passionate outbursts and never quite sinks into pastoral calm. In a straight comparison, it’s Gilbert who seems to present the more rounded view (with a better recording). But, all the same, this recording is an exhilarating display of the life-force at full blast in both composer and conductor.


Anthony Burton