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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "And everything feels right about the world", 28 Sep 2008
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Nicholas Casley (Plymouth, Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Nielsen: Orchestral Works (Audio CD)
So you've done the six Nielsen symphonies, the three Nielsen concertos, and you're still interested in hearing more. Good. So how about a select choice of orchestral works? You could do worse than this CD, which features eight pieces dating from 1888 to 1928, covering almost the whole of the Danish composer's career.

The earliest piece is his Symphonic Rhapsody, written when he was 23 years' old. A seven-minute exercise in sonata form, it was not published in his lifetime. The Nielsen compositional tropes are already present, but so are hints of Schubert and Brahms. A year later, Nielsen composed some music for a play called `An Evening at Giske' by Andreas Munch. On this CD we hear the eight-minute prelude. In accordance with its purpose, it's quite a melodramatic piece, a cross between a northern version of a Verdi overture and a Nino Rota movie score.

After a visit to the Mediterranean, Nielsen composed in 1903 his Helios Overture, and this is the best piece on the disc. A sombre opening witnesses sustained horns calling forth the rising sun. The mists clear with a rising-falling Brucknerian motif. Acutely delicate scoring leads into a gloriously broad midday horn theme with trumpet fanfares and everything feels right about the world. This is Nielsen at his best, but the day must end and the sun descend, the horn now providing a comforting rather than glorious sunset. At fourteen minutes, this must be one of the slowest versions available.

Five years later and Nielsen composed Gunnar's Dream. It possesses another sombre opening, but this time the dream-music flows sweetly like a river, but mystery is also present in the form of flute arabesques attached to slow low brass chords. Dancing strings provide narrative support to the saga's ensuing scenes, including an impressive fluttering of woodwind. The flowing river of the opening returns, now combined with the saga's tributaries.

The least appealing track on this CD, for me, is the Paraphrase On Nearer My God To Thee of 1912for wind and percussion. Thankfully, it lasts only four minutes. In 1918, Nielsen wrote his pastorale Pan & Syrinx. Here Nielsen meets Debussy with a striking cor anglais, and flute and cello taking on the roles of the protagonists. Repeated ostinatos are typical Nielsen. Tinkling percussion and slippery, exotic, wayward woodwind can be heard. There are echoes of his recently completed fourth symphony, the `Inextinguishable'.

The penultimate piece in chronological terms recorded here is his 1927 rhapsody overture, An Imaginary Journey to the Faeroe Islands. There is a sombre opening under a leaden sky. Slowly colours seep into view but the palette is still restricted, though continually growing broader. Woodwind scamper across and against the flow. A chorale on the horn is joined by the orchestra and the sun shines. The ensuing festival music can be banal, but the piece ends on a standard Nielsen decrescendo. The latest piece (1928) is a Bohemian-Danish Folk Tune for strings, eight minutes of variations reminiscent of Tchaikovsky's serenade.

Overall, then, this is a good choice of Nielsen orchestral music, well-played and with very good sound quality. As with the conductor's Rozhdestvensky's recordings of the Nielsen symphonies, pacing is a problem. So, as a result, I must agree with the authors of the Penguin Guide, who write that this CD is a "very good recording, but in the last analysis, these performances are a little deficient in zest."
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Nielsen: Orchestral Works
Nielsen: Orchestral Works by Carl Nielsen (Audio CD - 1999)
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