NIELSEN: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 6 “Sinfonia semplice” – London Sym. Orch./ Sir Colin Davis – LSO Live multichannel SACD LSO0715, 68:11 [Distr. by Naxos] (2/14/12) *****:
Was surprised to see that there are no other SACD releases of any of the six Nielsen symphonies. So seeing as this one is from the LSO and Colin Davis and brings us two of them in stunning hi-res surround, this moves to first place.
The youthful First draws from both Dvorak and Brahms, as Nielsen was still searching for his unique musical voice. It’s fairly wild and fearless, and some feel Davis doesn’t capture that as well as some other versions on standard CD. I was happy with it, and the orchestra is certainly right there at the top with the Berlin Philharmonic etc. Now in his 80s, Davis is no newbie to this by any means. Recorded last year in the Barbican, which has some acoustic problems, but like San Francisco’s Davies Hall, recording engineers seem to do a very effective job of getting around the hall’s problems.
The Sixth is a total contrast to the First – more mature and complex – though both works share folk inflections and tonal ambiguity. It alternates whimsy and ferocity, with the second movement being a sort of musical parody of modern trends in classical music. It also seems to be more in tune with Davis’s conducting approach. Scandinavians are known for their deep introspective thinking, and Nielsen thought out all the manifold details of this complicated symphony, creating a masterpiece as his final symphony that puts him right up there with the other great composer from the North, Sibelius. His title for the symphony – simple – now seems more ironic than anything. The 11-minute Finale lives up to its title of “fiery.” The music tries to free itself from association with the key of G minor which the symphony is supposedly set in. It makes a terrific finale to this work by the Danish composer.
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