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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 February 2014
The symphonies of Carl Neilsen, while never as popular in the concert hall as those of his friend Sibelius, have always had a strong representation in the recording catalogue. Nielsen's music is always recognisable, and his distinctive style straddles late Romanticism and Modernism with consummate ease.
The most popular of the symphonies are undoubtedly those presented on this new release from BIS, and individually and in this pairing they face stiff competition, and I am happy to report that this Swedish Orchestra conducted by a Finn and playing Danish composed music takes its place among the top ranked.
Oramo takes a more spare approach to these works, driving the music forward with incisive rhythms and eliciting a lithe, steely string tone from his first rate players.

In the Fourth this is in direct contrast to the massive weight of tone and more majestic approach of Karajan, and where Karajan almost seems to find the duel between the timpani in the fourth movement somewhat vulgar, and has his timps a touch recessed, Oramo has no such reservations and lets rip at a breakneck pace in spectacular sound that puts even the Blomstedt/San Francisco recording in the shade.

The Fifth emerges as a nervous, troubled piece with stark tones and all the plushness of other readings eschewed in the passages of emotional resolution. The insistent chatter of the obligato snare drum is punctuated by piercingly shrill woodwind, incisive brass and is underpinned by the pulsating drive of the low strings.

Both readings look to the future of music, rather than any nostalgic looking backwards.
The Fourth is a bold statement of the strength of the human spirit, the Fifth emerges as a the horror of mechanised warfare offset by the redeeming spirit of humanity whether Neilsen intended that or not.
The playing is superb in all departments, the recording is as ever from this company extraordinarily detailed and well balanced, and in SACD is even more spectacular.

However, if you are expecting a well upholstered wallow in the manner of Karajan or Blomstedt on Decca-his set with the Danish RSO is nearer to this one in character-you may be disappointed by the more lean and strident sound picture adopted by Oramo.

These are very powerful readings indeed, all steely Northern Light with little Southern Warm Glow, and if this appeals-and it should in these works-you will be well satisfied with these performances.

Alternatives abound, though none are as well recorded as this set, but Blomstedt, Jarvi and Salonen are all fine alternatives, as are Bernstein and Ole Schmidt to name but a few-sadly the Davis/LSO recording is compromised by harsh sound-and Karajan in the Fourth is a "must hear" at least.

I am delighted to find Maestro Oramo back to full form and his recordings with this orchestra have so far been a total success. Highly recommended. Stewart Crowe.
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This SACD hybrid recording was made in 2012-13 and commences a much larger series of recordings featuring this orchestra under Oramo and comprising the complete set of six Nielsen symphonies.

That sound in its SACD surround form especially, as with the other two issues in the series, can reasonably and realistically be simply described as spectacular with excellent balances and impressive range. One immediately registers the greater sense of space around the instruments as well as the width and depth of the aural stage.

As sound therefore, this new disc is more than a match for the fine traditional stereo recordings provided by Decca for their set of symphonies featuring Blomstedt and the San Francisco orchestra. Comparisons have not been made with the Danish set on EMI. Sonically, this new disc has achieved a new benchmark setting for sound considerations and especially when heard in its SACD format.

By general consensus, Blomstedt’s earlier 1980’s Decca set has been a clear front runner with only the alternative set made in the 1970’s, also by Blomstedt but with the Danish orchestra, being preferred by collectors. That is now available in improved re-mastering at a very low price and with generous fill-ups. The Danish set is generally felt to have a more idiomatic feel to that of the San Francisco set.

Returning to the current Swedish disc, in terms of interpretation, Oramo provides a warmer pair of interpretations to those of Blomstedt while still fully delivering on the climatic moments, of which there are many in these two symphonies. Generally Oramo adopts fleet tempi which heighten the drama which is delivered with precision rather than brute force. This distinction is particularly relevant and important in these two symphonies with their emphasis upon instrumental opposition, most notably the ‘battle’ between the two sets of timpani in symphony 4 and the assertive solo side drum in symphony 5. The result in both cases remains musical rather than being a physical battering.

This makes a fine recommendation for these two symphonies but the true value of this disc becomes even more apparent as the remaining two discs in the series are heard. At that point there is a consistency in Oramo’s approach which is alluded to in this review and which can be summarised as delivering a new level of empathy with the music and its idiom. This idiom is, not entirely surprisingly, matched by the members of the Swedish orchestra both individually and corporately and the whole adds up to a completely sympathetic set of readings.

The readings are characterised by an onward pulse, with climaxes delivered with bite rather than with a blunt weapon metaphorically speaking and where the lyrical element is emphasised. This latter gives these readings rather more warmth and humanity than can be heard elsewhere. The forward pulse also creates a sense of excitement, of exultation and thrill rather than high-pressured drama. The more delicate elements are also presented with sympathy and clarity.

In summary these are deeply satisfying readings and are presented in excellent sound, especially when heard in SACD format.
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on 14 March 2014
The recording of Elgar’s second symphony with this orchestra/conductor was so disappointing for me – I’m very much used to the punch and drive of Solti in that one – that I was skeptic of this release. I was totally wrong. This is the most enjoyable reading of these 2 symphonies I can imagine. One fine thing of it is that there’s absolutely no highlighting of snare drum in the 5th and timps in the 4th. It all sounds very natural so it’s more wonderful and effectfull than ever. Most producers can’t stay away from their mixing panels and pull the percussion in both symphonies forward to get some extra drive, force, energy or whatever. But with that they drown the other instruments, Nielsen didn’t ask for it in his scores – the dynamic markings are there to see – and the symphonies tend to get heavy footed. Orama, the orchestra and the production team manage a very natural sound and that gives the listener the opportunity to delve into the wonders of Nielsen’s orchestration technique, which is totally individual. So with this release you get a natural and forceful Nielsen, not forced!, not highlighted but very well played and engineered. I’d especially ask attention for the great climax in the first movement of the 5th symphony, what a built up of tension!!! A winner, bravo!
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on 24 June 2015
On first listening I didn't like this disc, which I attribute to the fact that the sound--on the CD layer--seems a little dry, rough, and lacking in depth and atmosphere. That seems to affect the strings most. I still feel that way, and mention it in case others react the same way. But on second listen--about a year later--this seems very worthwhile.

For me, Nielsen is a 'desert island' composer even more than Sibelius would be. Like Sibelius, his music often suggests the grand vistas of nature, and their beauty, mystery, and desolation--and for me the sense of mystery, and the sweetness of the beauty, goes deeper than in Sibelius. But Nielsen offers somethings Sibelius doesn't--a sharper sense of other, contrasting elements at the opposite end of the spectrum, provided by densely interwoven, complex, and rhythmically powerful themes that build to far more powerful climaxes and resolutions than heard in Sibelius. (I love Sibelius, just love Nielsen more.)

Orama and his Stockholm orchestra do very well indeed at illuminating both of these elements. They do lean toward a more punchy, powerful approach than some, and that works just slightly better for me in the 4th than the 5th. Even there it pays some dividends, though. One difficulty in the 5th can be maintaining forward drive and interest following the powerful 2nd-movement climax, but the sharpness of attack here adds energy to the concluding movements in a way I've not heard before. It's been many years since I heard my old familiar Karajan LP (of the 4th), but I recall he had a way of easing into those sweet, quiet, inward moments better than Oramo, while still presenting the dramatic aspects powerfully. The same has probably been true of some other versions. Still, this is a CD to return to often.
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on 4 September 2015
Wanted so much to like this, as we really need great versions of both pieces. Marginally better than the horrendous Gilbert/NYP set, but still hugely disappointing. Tempos poor. Sound poor. Conducting poor. What else is there to say? The search goes on.
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on 5 October 2014
to be listen once
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