Nielsen: Symphonies Nos 4 & 5

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Nielsen
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: Nielsen: Symphonies Nos 4 & 5
WORKS: Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra/Sakari Oramo
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-2028

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It has taken a long time to get to this point, but it does seem that conductors in general have a much better understanding of how Nielsen’s music should ‘go’. Nielsen himself said that his music had ‘a certain current’, and if you didn’t get that, you might as well pack up and go home. In fact there’s much more to his music than that, but performances of these two symphonies like those of Colin Davies on LSO Live show that if you can plug into what the composer called ‘the elemental will to life’, then so much else falls into place. Sakari Oramo certainly knows how to generate and sustain a good current. Both of these symphonies are conceived as strong, purposeful wholes, so much so that there’s absolutely no sense of anti-climax in the second movement of the Fifth: the first movement may have been cataclysmic, but there’s plenty left to think and do. Oramo also has a truly admirable way with phrasing Nielsen’s long lines – his melodies are rarely as predictable as their opening motifs suggest. The second theme of the Fifth Symphony’s finale has a touching lilt to it, and so does the arching ‘life’ melody in the Fourth. And Oramo is one of the enlightened conductors who understand that the return of the tune at the end of the Fourth Symphony is so more effective, so much more Nielsen, if you don’t slow down – this is no naïve Romantic apotheosis. My only reservation? That it’s still a few kilojoules short of ‘elemental’ – admirable, but not quite gripping.

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Stephen Johnson