Top critical review
17 people found this helpful
on 11 January 2011
Sorry, I find this a bit of a disappointment. Maybe, as a Nielsen-lover who has oft bemoaned the lack of the Danish master's symphonies on SACD, my expectations were just a bit too high?
If I were to sum this up in one line, it would go something like `decent performances, in typically one-dimensional LSO Live/Barbican sound.'
Live performances and listening in the home are - of course - very different experiences. Had I heard these readings live, I would probably have been more enthusiastic. For repeated home listening, and in the context of available alternative readings, however, they do not stack up so well.
Both these symphonies are explicit musical depictions of the struggle between good and evil or, if you prefer, the life force and war/destruction. They require great control and nuance to project both forces with equal vigour. It's relatively easy to get the dynamic and loud stuff to work, but conveying charm and simplicity in the same reading is much more elusive.
For me, these readings under-characterise these more tranquil moments. They tend to sound a bit rushed and perfunctory to my ears. Hear, for example II of the Inextinguishable (No 4). Where is its naïve simplicity and intense Danish folk character and flavour?
This lack of flexibility, light and shade in the readings of both symphonies prevents me from rating them higher. They sound like good symphonies in these performances. But they sound truly great when performed by Blomstedt (earlier set, with the Danish RSO) or Karajan (for No 4) or Horenstein (5).
I should note here that the playing (live) is marvellous throughout, but we wouldn't really expect otherwise from this fine orchestra.
Regretfully, sound quality is what we have come to expect from the LSO Live/Barbican paradigm. Clean, but dry, up-front and generally unappealing. In fact, the RBCD of the earlier complete Blomstedt cycle, in classic, golden-age EMI sound (and available for a snip) has more air, depth and staging than this. And, as noted above, its Inextinguishable is peerless.
If you must have your music on SACD, then there is no competition for No 4, and the only rival for No 5 is Paavo Jarvi on Telarc; this is a decent enough reading, but rather generic and transatlantic in feel, and dragged down by one of the limpest Stravinsky Rites in history hanging, albatross-like, on its flip side.
If you are prepared to listen to RBCD or vinyl, then there are simply more appealing alternatives out there.
(SACD stereo layer reviewed)