This live performance of Nielsen's 5th Symphony from 1983, with Rafael Kubelik leading the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra in Copenhagen, is one for the ages, definitely one of the best 5ths of all. Oddly, EMI doesn't even put Kubelik's name on the cover of this disc, the Nielsen entry in its 20th Century Classics budget line. This stunning performance underscores the possibility for creative interpretation that great conductors always bring to a score. Like Furtwangler's idiosyncratic but gripping, organic live Beethoven, or Celibidache's oceanic live Bruckner, Kubelik takes Nielsen's 5th substantially slower than most, but rather than losing energy manages to ramp it up and drive home its passion. Blomstedt's quicker San Francisco performance and Rozhdestvensky's fine performance with the Stockholm orchestra (see my review) are both superb, but Kubelik brings out something undeniably powerful that these others miss. Nielsen's 5th Symphony is considered by some to be the greatest symphony of the 20th century. Personally I would have to go with Shostakovich's 5th or 8th, but it is a great symphony, of that there is no doubt.
Nielsen's "Violin Concerto" rounds out Disc One, with Arve Tellefsen on violin and Herbert Blomstedt leading the DRSO. It is a fine performance, though I still prefer Maxim Vengerov with Daniel Barenboim and the CSO. Disc Two features woodwinds, with the "Flute Concerto" and "Clarinet Concerto," both standard repertoire pieces, and the charming neo-baroque "Wind Quintet," a 1967 recording of the Melos Ensemble. The concertos feature Blomstedt and the DRSO, recorded in 1975, with Frantz Lemmser on flute and Kjell-Inge Stevensson on clarinet. I have not heard alternative versions of these pieces, (for instance a recent recording by Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic but both are quite fine. The "Clarinet Concerto" is surprisingly wild for Nielsen, a dramatic showcase for the clarinet.
The three concertos are the same 1975 recordings recently included in the EMI Gemini 2-disc set, and that itself was a reissue. That set, though, includes five short orchestral works instead of the 5th Symphony and Wind Quintet. The Kubelik 5th, on the other hand, does not seem to have been available any time recently, perhaps never on CD, and was retrieved from deep in the EMI vaults. It is the real prize of this set!