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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Possibly the Best, 17 Oct 2012
Mr. A. R. Boyes "Alan Boyes" (Newcastle, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Nielsen: Complete Symphonies (Audio CD)
Whilst it's avialble grab this whilst you can.

I was intrigued by the positive reviews for this box set; not to mention the bargain price. I read David Hurwitz's review on "Classics Today" suggesting these were all but definitive performances but let down by a lack of orchestral quality, which shows, apparently, when the orchestra fails to provide impact at key moments. I've listened to these recordings enough times to hear that the players are not letting the side down. Nonetheless, he has a point, which I'll come to.

As they say; "don't judge a book by its cover". This is incredibly cheap so you'd be forgiven for not taking it seriously - but the sleeve notes are good and the the contents are a fine vintage indeed. Don't let the provincial name and cheap box set appearance fool you. The orchestra sound quite refined: typically Czech. They sound breathtakingly beautiful at times finding new details I've not previously noticed. Theodore Kuchar's interpretations are carefully weighted and let the music's drama speak for itself. There isn't a weak performance in the set. These performances prove that Nielsen doesn't need any hard, confrontational Anglo-Saxon or Danish reserve to make their point. They're all great works - yes all six of them.

As for the performances and interpretations: they show real maturity on behalf of both orchestra and conductor. Like the best Danish ensembles, the temptation to simply attack in the louder parts of the Fourth and Fifth are resisted in favour of musicality. One point, however, where a bit more attack would have helped would have been in the final peroration of the Fifth, where the strings are a bit too polite sounding: The same is true in the Finale of the Fourth.

The music elsewhere is treated as something more rounded than big slabs of granite or masonary. The strings and woodwind sound rich and the brass are particularly fine and nuanced. That's not to say that conductor and orchestra generally shy away from confrontation (strings excepted) where it is written into the score.

It's just a shame that so few, good as they are, can claim to be better than these. Schonwandt's excellent version on Da Capo and re-released on Naxos has better sound recording and makes very similar interpretative decisions that still capture the drama.

On this Brilliant Classic recording, the performances of the earlier symphonies are real treasures - a revelation indeed. Number One and "Expansiva" are real highlights for me. Has the slow movement of "Espansiva" and its uncredited soloists ever sounded better? I've not heard better. You never want it to end.

In Number One the woodwinds rich mid European sound emphasises what a mainstream but top quality symphony this is - albeit with progressive tonality. Early as it is it's still Nielsen through and through. The final symphony, Sinfonia Semplice, seen by many as an odd ball, gets another strong performance and, for the record, I love the piece and play as often as the more popular ones. The Janacek Philharmonic is more than equal to all of these.

Then we come to one slight problem, which David Hurwitz wrongly attributed to the players: whilst the sound is generally very good (glorious in "Espansiva")it sounds like the sound engineers / producers have set about dampening down the dynamics a touch in the more dramatic passages - brass and timpani suddenly become recessed. The dynamic range of these recordings is, therefore, flattened: a la Classic FM. This is the last thing you want with Nielsen's music.

Despite these small reservations I can still recommend this set to Nielsen lovers. As you'd expect, the recessed timpani harm the "Inextinguishable" but it is the Fifth that comes out worst because the timpani provide key punctuation points that lose some of their impact as a result (throughout, the timpanists sound like they've been removed from the stage and hidden in a back room). Across the other symphonies this dubious sound engineering causes far less damage and the excellent performances and interpretation shine through. With Schonwandt's series for Da Capo / Naxos this is the series to have at an incredible price.
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Nielsen: Complete Symphonies
Nielsen: Complete Symphonies by Janácek PO (Audio CD - 2012)
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