Sibelius' fifth symphony, as with his second, represents Sibelius at his best: periods of music depicting desolation, with a fragile, haunting melancholy interspersed with brassy climaxes and interesting percussion effects. I agree with Colin Fortune here, this is one of the best versions around.
However I was bitterly disappointed with Nielsen's 4th., my favourite large-scale work. I purchased in high hopes, knowing Sir Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Philharmonic usually to be a fine combination. The opening lacks the unbridled energy of the finest versions and the pace is slow; the all-important clarinet theme, about 1 minute 35 seconds into the 1st movement, a rallying point for the E major forces, slips in almost unnoticed. Conversely the finale is delivered at too faster pace so that some of the tension is lost as it appears to be rushing towards the climaxes. The vigorous duel between the two sets of timpani is handled and recorded wonderfully well but the final, life-affirming climax is, for me, spoiled by the percussion dominating the brass - sounds more like Rattle's variations on a theme of Nielsen's.
There is the bonus of Nielsen's Tone Poem: Pan and Syrinx, which has many of the haunting or threatening woodwind sounds reminiscent of his fifth symphony, but this is only likely to appeal to dedicated Nielsen fans.
I purchased this CD because I was setting up a Music Library for an organisation where it was useful to introduce members to the works of two great Scandinavian composers. For most dedicated enthusiasts it might be more useful to purchase Sibelius' fifth with his second and Nielsen's 4th. with his 5th (see my comments on Adrian Leaper's outstanding version) or with his wonderful violin concerto, one of the best in the repertoire.
Excellent recording but Jekyll & Hyde performances.