NIELSEN: Symphony No. 2 “The Four Temperaments”

by | Apr 16, 2009 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

NIELSEN: Symphony No. 2 “The Four Temperaments”  

Performers: Danish National Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
Studio: VAI DVD 4437
Video: 4:3 Black & White
Audio: PCM Mono
No region coding
Length: 37 minutes; Bonus: Stokowski interview with Hans Hansen – 8 minutes
Rating: ****

As part of his 1967 summer tour, Leopold Stokowski traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark to conduct his first performance of Second Symphony of Carl Nielsen. Eighty-five-years old, Stokowski had already led the Sixth Symphony “Sinfonia semplice” in London. In his short interview, Stokowski calls Nielsen one of the great composers of the world. He particularly looks forward to visiting Gurre, whose ruins echo Schoenberg’s work in Stokowski’s soul, and he expresses his desire to record the Gurre-Lieder at the site.

Without baton, Stokowski opens the first movement, Allegro collerico in B Minor, with that rich, Stokowski sound: strings left and right; winds, brass, and tympani mounted on tiers directly in front of him. Stokowski turns the score as he leads with the right hand, barely invoking the left except to sculpt some huge, melodic arch or to complement the cues he gives with his eyes and curt nods. Six bass fiddles invoke a period that embraces the French horns, brass, and tympani. Sudden dynamic shifts, sforzati, metric asymmetries, stretti–all proceed under sublime control by a master of his craft. The G Major Allegro comodo e flemmatico connects waltz-tissue in a French horn solo and accompanying woodwinds. The music becomes an outdoor serenade over a pedaled tympani. Still descending by thirds, the Andante malicolico opens in E-flat Minor, the strings intoning a throaty hymn, shades of Bruckner. Oboes and string extend the pathos, Stokowski sculpting the grand line that soon embraces trombones, blazing trumpets, and tympani.  The middle section opens misterioso, diaphanous, with clarinet and strings in dialogue’ eye movement from Stokowski injects a crescendo, and at one intense moment he mimics a violinist to demand more expression. A dark, brooding eruption marks the climax of this powerful movement, then it slowly dissipates into serene space.

The last movement jumps forth in D Major, Allegro sanguineo, the journey of a happy, free soul. Jubilant, throbbing with expansive, frolicking energies, the music moves in kaleidoscopic colors in brass and strings. A cosmopolitan air runs by in canon that becomes a martial call to life. The tympani invites the next period, a ritornello in tutti, all pomp and circumstance. It suddenly breaks off–a moment of doubt–and philosophy replaces the bacchanalia. Strings, however, shimmer once more, and the hall fills with frantic vitality, an apotheosis of a coda in the spirit of Beethoven. A happy Stokowski accepts the applause, eager for his talented Danes to share the accolades.

In his brief interview–enhanced by excerpts of the same concert we just enjoyed – Stokowski retraces his tour from Monaco, via Paris, to Denmark. Hansen asks Stokowski if audiences are more tolerant of “new music” than they had been in the past. “Yes, the climate is better, and the public is willing to listen, without yelling, booing, hissing. We are, after all, in the latter part of the 20th Century. But there are still people–otherwise intelligent and sane–who insist good music ended with Mozart, and that Beethoven ruined everything. I myself cannot understand this attitude.”  Hansen asks about recordings: “I love to record; it is a very special process. But I want eight channels, and the modern techniques only give me four. I am obstinate. When they give me the eight channels I want to capture individual instruments and accompanying colors, then I will demand sixteen channels. I am very obstinate.”

— Gary Lemco

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