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*NIELSEN: 6 Symphonies (complete) – Lucy Hall, sop./ Marcus Farnsworth, bari./ London Sym. Orch./ Sir Colin Davis – LSO Live (3 SACDs + Blu-ray)

*CARL NIELSEN: 6 Symphonies (complete) – Lucy Hall, sop./ Marcus Farnsworth, bari./ London Sym. Orch./ Sir Colin Davis – LSO Live multichannel SACD LSO0789 (3 SACDs + 1 Blu-ray disc), (SACDs:) 65:10, 65:57, 70:12 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:

Wow! What a treasure trove this one is. For about $25 you can have all three SACDs (released from 2011-13) plus one new Blu-ray disc that contains everything on one disc. I am not going to repeat what the three previous excellent reviews on our site have already done. Check these links for a quick overview: Sym. 2 & 3; Sym. 1 & 6; Sym. 4 & 5.

As you can see, we liked all of these quite a lot. The late, lamented Colin Davis was quite unlike a number of conductors who see their swan song years dovetailing into slow, even lethargic reminiscences hell-bent on milking every bit of meaning out of every note in every bar; in fact, he seems as full of energy here as he ever was. Nielsen’s Six are some of the cornerstones of the modern repertory, magnificent examples each of how the symphony had evolved in the Nordic countries at his time. These pieces, written between 1892 and 1925, are extraordinary in their technical sophistication and musical largesse; they might not be what they are except that the composer had this regal talent for wearing his heart on his sleeve. Though he is not sentimental, the issues of his sometimes turbulent life do find their way into the music, but unlike his life, these trends always seem to get resolved in a manner that inspires and illumines. Not knowing them leaves a hole of incalculable size in one’s own musical education, not to say enjoyment.

Each of these was well-received worldwide when first appearing. But now LSO Live has packaged them in a four-disc set that allows the collection of three SACDs to be augmented with a new Blu-ray disc featuring all symphonies in one place. At the great price we might ask what the point is of having two high end formats in one box—and I am not sure I can answer this. But the real question is the nature of the sound on the Blu-ray. The original SACDs were exemplary in their stunning audio presentations, as good as I have ever heard on LSO Live and the best-sounding Nielsen symphonies ever. However, I must admit that head-to-head comparisons between the two formats leave the Blu-ray wanting. It’s not that it is a bad sound, in fact it is excellent; but the SACD is far brighter, allowing for better depth perception, and a much broader soundstage. The Blu-ray has a muted aura to it, not obscuring detail in any way, but softening it and cushioning the overall generally stunning impact of the performances.

Nevertheless, it’s great having them on one disc though I think I will most likely return to the SACDs when a Nielsen hankering overcomes me. Interpretatively these are superb; I won’t toss my Bernstein recordings (or even Karajan for that matter…well, maybe not) but these certainly surpass all the others in my collection, which I can now thin out a bit, guilt-free. Outstanding!

—Steven Ritter

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