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57 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the first stereo complete Nielsen symphony sets,
These Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra recordings by Blomstedt appeared at about the same time as the Unicorn recordings under Ole Schmidt, now reissued on Regis Nielsen - Complete Symphonies for a few pounds more. Both sets are really good, the present one having just a little more music on it than the Schmidt and also a little more depth to the sound. This has to be one of the best value symphony sets and is an ideal introduction to the symphonies of this great Danish composer. Oddly, only the Scandiavian countries and the British and Americans seem to have taken to Carl Nielsen: but whereas concerts in Britain are relatively rare they are almost non-existent in places like France and Germany! This is a great shame.
The symphonies were written between 1898 and 1926 with perhaps the most obvious high point being the 4th ("The Inextinguishable") of 1914 and the great 5th of 1922. Whereas the earlier symphonies were depictions of emotional states (see especially the 2nd "The Four Temperaments") these two symphonies are huge dramas where the positive life-force triumphs over negativity.
The final movement of the 4th is hugely exciting with two sets of timpani placed on opposite sides of the sound stage, hammering to and fro and attacking the gathering exultation of the music; and the first movement of the 5th has a remarkable part where the side-drum player (banging out the "evil" and disruptive rhythm) is instructed to interrupt and stop the flow of the music at all costs! Needless to say the resultant battle is eventually won by full orchestra at one of the most thrilling climaxes in 20th Century music.
The "Simple Symphony", number 6, is anything but that and is initially rather off-putting in its wry and witty writing. The opening sets the rather high-pitched tone with strokes on the glockenspiel and by the very end of the symphony the listener has been transported through an ironical attack on empty overblown music and on over-serious academic writing. The very end of the work leaves the last notes to the pair of bassoons, who metaphorically thumb their noses - so to speak - at all negativity.
Nielsen is probably one of the more life asserting composers (another one being Haydn) and he well repays the effort in getting to know his work. This set is an ideal way to learn the music, and at the current price is well worth getting as a pendant to any other recordings you might own if you have alreay discovered this Danish master. Strongly recommended.
41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nielsen symphonies in classic analogue sound,
This set is a real bargain, and self-recommending. The performances make for an interesting contrast with Blomstedt's later Nielsen cycle with the San Francisco orchestra. Those are slicker, but somehow less idiomatic. The stand-out performance here, as noted elsewhere, is the vibrant, life-affirming 4th, which is quite magnificent. The remaining symphonies are never less than satisfying, although the 5th is a tad disjoint at time.
But, the sound... I still have the 35-year old vinyl, which I could never enjoy fully because of iffy surfaces. This CD set sounds spookily similar, testifying to an excellent transfer to the digital domain. It sounds simply superb, a very natural, well balanced orchestral sound with palpable hall presence, hair-raising dynamic range and boot-down-the-back-wall stage depth. It's now revealed to be the best sounding Nielsen symphonic set, bar none. Blomstedt's later Decca Digital cycle sounds just awful by comparison. Well, such is progress...
Buy it, you won't be sorry.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great symphonic cycle,
Having now completed my listening experience of this whole symphonic cycle by Neilsen, I am absolutely pleased with all the performances here on this bargin box set from EMI. These stereo sound recordings were made between 1973 and 1975,sound as good if not better than many a digital recording these days, which is important given the dynamic ranges these symphonies require. The beauty of a set like this, is that you can follow the symphonic developments of Neilsen from his late-Romantic symphonies like 1-3 and onto the later modernist neo-Classical symphonies 4-6, but even so there are still some moments of Dvorakian sunshine, particulary in the first movement of Symphony no 6. The last 3 symphonies also show an increasing use of percussion to add power to the musical arguements to produce music that is both thought provoking and exciting. The symphonies were writtten between 1898 and 1926 with the First World War having an impact on the change of musical direction starting with Symphony 4. There are also 2 short orchestral pieces of which the Bohemiam-Danish Folk Tunes, still shows some Romantic tendancies, even though it was written in 1928. This orchestra and conductor offer great perfomances of all the works here and get close to the heart of the music. In the past on the EMI Forte label there was a double set containing the concertos and other smaller works like Helios and An Imaginary Trip to the Faroe Isles by the same forces, these recordings made around the mid seventies are also worth buying, as the performances are just as good. Thank you again to Amazon and your amazing musical directory, in stocking such worthwhile composer sets like this one and again for offerng a very effective delivery service.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Danes playing a Dane,
I discovered this music rather recently. Actually I got caught by the timpani duel in the fourth symphony...
In the Blomstedt & Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra recording I have found my recording.
Blomstedt is one of my fav conductors (just listen to his recording of the Beethoven symphonies), and in this music he is fully at home. He balances drama and relaxation in an excellent way. He gives full space for the music, without any extremes. And he can fully rely on the Danish Radio SO. They KNOW this music. This gives the recording a feeling of being fully mature.
The San Fransisco orchestra that Blomstedt have worked with in his other recording of these symphonies might be a bit more extrovert, and it's actually a matter of taste which orchestra you prefer.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best recording of all six symphonies,
This review is from: Nielsen: Symphonies (MP3 Download)
This has for long been the favorite recording among the critics. I can see why. The performances of all the symphonies are excellent under the baton of Herbert Blomstedt, a match for some of the earlier recordings, which I was brought up with, with danish orchestras. The recording quality is first rate. If you don't know these symphonies do try them at this bargain price. I'm never quite sure about No 2 which seems a bit "light" and No 6 takes a bit of getting used to - Nielsen was trying to be more "modern" here and I'm not sure that it is a success. But the other four are all great favorites of mine.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars STATE OF DENMARK,
When choosing recordings of Nielsen for my own collection I tend to home in on Danish offerings, and if I do that on my own account I suppose I should give similar advice to other potential purchasers. For some reason Nielsen has never established himself internationally in the way Sibelius has. I don't detect much consensus among musicians about how his symphonies should and should not be played, largely no doubt because I don't hear them much discussed in the first place.
Such divergence of opinion as I do find tends to be around the issue of how vividly the music should be characterised. Playing safe would be unfair to strong and often experimental music like this, but over-dramatisation risks being, if not slightly ridiculous, then at least a bit un-Danish. In my own opinion the symphonies present us with a paradox that interpreters have to do their best with. On the one hand they introduce a miscellaneous assortment of novelties - wordless voices in the slow movement of #3, the famous racket kicked up by the drums in the first movement of #5, ending in keys they did not start in (like Mahler's fourth) - without really seeming to get away from their Brahmsian roots that are so obvious in the first symphony, repeated first movement exposition included. All very interesting of course, but not really amounting to a coherent new symphonic idiom such as Mahler established. Nearer home Sibelius was no revolutionary in his music any more than in his politics, but his symphonic style is a new thing on the earth for all that, as individual and unmistakable as there has ever been.
So - what do you want in a complete set of the six Nielsen symphonies? It's perfectly fair for us to demand that each individually should be to our liking, whatever that may be in practice. However a complete set of Nielsen has to show as much internal coherence as the composer allows. In fact I'd say the six works show more mutual family resemblance than maybe Nielsen would have liked us to find, and in that case, if the stylistic oddities are really superficial, then the conductor should treat them with care but not, of course, dampen them down to an extent that detracts from the energy of the inspiration. That's the way Blomstedt and his Danish Radio Orchestra seem to me to go about things, that's the approach that gets my own vote, but in deference to other perceptions I shall withhold a fifth star.
The special effects suit me fine as done here. The two wordless solo voices in #3 are balanced as I like them, not too prominent but more as orchestral woodwind solos would be balanced, as befits their being wordless. The drum-bashing in the 4th and 5th is not as overpowering as I have often heard, and for this relief, to quote a famous play set in Denmark, much thanks. The `collerico' first movement of #2 is not apoplectic, again to my great relief, tempi throughout are very much what I am accustomed to, and I have no complaint about that either. The recorded sound is from the mid-70's with the usual remastering, the orchestra is perfectly adequate without being any kind of rival to the Chicago Sym, and I experienced no craving for the kind of sound I might expect in, say, Ravel or Stravinsky. I actually own a disc containing the Helios Overture and a few other smaller orchestral pieces done by Ormandy with the Philadelphia. I would not deny that the sound, particularly in Helios, reaches out to me more. That may be because Helios is a different kind of composition, and much as I enjoy and admire that disc I still cling to the sense of instinctive Danish idiom that I get from this one.
There is an interesting, thoughtful and not overly long liner note by David Fanning. It is a bit earnest and arty I suppose, and it gets near to frightening the horses now and again with such revelations as `The seemingly post-conflictual second movement runs up against existential crises every bit as challenging as those in the first...' Even if you remain sceptical, as I do, of Fanning's inclination to read grandiose world-views into Nielsen's captions to various movements, this is a helpful short guide to symphonies that are not as well known as they deserve to be. I read that the 5th symphony `is now widely reckoned to be Nielsen's greatest masterpiece', but to such wide reckoners may I suggest that his two operas, Maskarade and Saul og David, surpass any of his instrumental pieces. As a detail I might also reply to Fanning's remark that `With the Sinfonia espansiva, interest in human character is generalised into a world view, "expansive" in this sense meaning outward-looking and positive' with the simple observation that the symphony gets its sobriquet from the performance-direction over the first movement `Allegro espansivo'. The set, containing as it does two smaller makeweights, can be viewed as a bargain too, and I'd call it a very good one.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Balanced performances,
I found that all 6 of the Symphonies were delivered in a well balanced manner. The tempi were well considered throughout, the conductor appreared to have a great empathy with the composer.
An excellent set of recordings, the soloists well chosen as their voices complemented each other as well as the music. The mixing and engineering of th recording gives crystal clarity.
A good investment for any music collection.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect Budget Choice,
I also have Blomstedts record with the San Francisco Orchestra, which is considerably more expensive complete. Hard to choice between the two otherwise, both sets are well recorded, though for obvious reasons, this one has a more scandanavian feel to it. This box also has a couple of fillers, which aren't easily available elsewhere and well worth having.
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning ....grab it while you can!,
sometimes there is no point in going into details. Overall verdict, stunning...I also have the Blomstedt San Francisco disc of 1 & 6... This set is simply a bargain not to miss...fine performances in fine sound played by the Danes!
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Value for Money,
This set of Nielsen symphonies offers an excellent value for money. Symhony No.4, arguably the most popular symphony of the Danish composer, receives an outstanding performance. The recording quality is good, if not of audiophile standards. Worth purchasing.
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