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NIELSEN: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 6 – Royal Stockholm Philharmonic/ Sakari Oramo – BIS

NIELSEN: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 6 – Royal Stockholm Philharmonic/ Sakari Oramo –  BIS multichannel SACD 2128, 64:34 (5/12/15) [Dist. by Naxos] *** 1/2:

This disc, part of a series of all six Nielsen Symphonies from BIS, is a welcome addition to the great composer’s recorded masterpieces. These two works complete the cycle for BIS and the Stockholm Philharmonic.

Carl Nielsen was an unconventional Dane, a child prodigy growing up in a poor but musically talented family. He played in a military band and premiered his first composition at age 23. His acclaimed six Symphonies were written between 1892 and 1925.

The Second Symphony, presented here, is an exploration of the human character. Inspiration came from a painting in an inn depicting the four temperaments (choleric, phlegmatic, melancholic and sanguine). It has, not surprisingly, a wide range of emotions and is dynamically played by the Royal Stockholm Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Sakari Oramo.

The same is true for the Sixth Symphony. written in 1924–25, and subtitled Sinfonia Semplice (Simple Symphony), the tonal language seems similar to that in Nielsen’s other symphonies, but the symphony develops into a sequence of small musical sequences, some sad, some dark, some lighter. There are even hints of the band music that Nielsen played when he was young.

The recording offered is quite good, although just a bit shy of the deepest bass to my ear, listening on a system capable of prodigious bass when the recording calls for it. Other than that, this is a very clean recording, and I would call it ‘naturalistic’, with microphones well back in the hall and not smothering the orchestra in the pursuit of ‘detail’. There is a very fine and stable image of the orchestra that fills in nicely between the stereo speakers. The rear channels are mainly there for hall ambiance. The precise performances are enhanced by the acoustics of the Stockholm Concert Hall.

Unlike Sibelius, Nielsen’s reputation was a slow build, with increasing awareness of his talents rising after World War Two. There is much to recommend this recording, and I hope to hear all the other symphonies in this now completed series. The musicians are flawless with these challenging symphonies, and while the recording is not spectacular in the deepest bass , it is very well done and gives a nice representation of the sound of a live concert.

—Mel Martin

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