Nielsen: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; v 3; Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 6

COMPOSERS: Nielsen
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; v 3; Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 6
PERFORMER: San Francisco SO/Herbert Blomstedt
CATALOGUE NO: 443 117-2 DDD
Revisiting these often admirable and (by others) lavishly praised performances has only reinforced my passionate allegiance to the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra/Neeme Jarvi Nielsen cycle on DG (now available on separate CDs just as Decca have brought together Blomstedt’s interpretations within a slipcase for the first time).

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The spirit is often right, with brisk, clean and reasonably rugged dashes at the earlier outer movements and eloquent, almost vocal characterisations of the choleric, phlegmatic and sanguine aspects of’The Four Temperaments’ (No. 2). Here it’s the melancholy spirit which barely scratches the surface: the San Francisco strings’ artfully applied vibrato, caught at close quarters in the slightly over-bright recording, is just about as heartfelt as the quaver in the voice of an old-school Shakespearean actor.

Blomstedt sometimes seems impatient with mood and atmosphere: softer dynamics are all carefully observed, but the perspectives remain one-dimensional (especially in the fields and skies of the slow movement of the Sinfonia espansiva (No. 3), where the vocalise-ing soprano has neither the top B flat nor the sense of the long line required of her).

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As the arguments get tougher — from the third movement of Espansiva right through to the elliptical No. 6 – Blomstedt sees exactly where the music’s going. His problem is that he’s never prepared to veer either side of the course. How far away this is from Jarvi, who seems to be able to do anything with an orchestra — and especially a string department — that already knows and loves this music better than anyone. Blomstedt clearly outlines the workings of an extraordinary mind, but it’s Jarvi whose comparative freedom lays bare the soul of each symphony: a simple case of the good versus the great. David Nice