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Strong, acerbic readings and superb recording and playing combine to make this a strong recommendation.
on 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.