NIELSEN: Symphony No. 3 “Sinfonia espansiva,” Op. 27; Symphony No. 5, Op. 50 – Ruth Gueldbaek, soprano/Erik Sjoberg, baritone/Danish State Radio Symphony Orchestra/John Frandsen (Op. 27)/Erik Tuxen (Op. 50)Guild

by | Jan 22, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

NIELSEN: Symphony No. 3 “Sinfonia espansiva,” Op. 27; Symphony No. 5, Op. 50 – Ruth Gueldbaek, soprano/Erik Sjoberg, baritone/Danish State Radio Symphony Orchestra/John Frandsen (Op. 27)/Erik Tuxen (Op. 50)

Guild GHCD 2340, 69:15 [Distrib. By Albany] ****:

The recordings of two Nielsen symphonies, the Third (1912) and the Fifth (1922) derive from the 1950s, marking the advent of Nielsen’s music in England, particularly in the Edinburgh Festival performance of the Fifth under Erik Tuxen (29 August 1950).

The Third Symphony (rec. 3-5 March 1955) comes from a fruitful and happy period in the composer’s life, and the music reflects an exuberance and exhilaration of the outdoors, a rhythmic fancy that often finds itself compared to the Seventh Symphony of Beethoven. The opening movement wends its athletic way between modes, often reminding one of Shostakovich, but here qualified by angular, waltz figures and  vigorous thrusts from strings, brass, and tympani that exert a martial, inflamed spirit. The Andante pastorale asks the two vocal soli to sit among the orchestral players, their voices in wordless melisma as rarified instruments suggestive of a hidden, bucolic world far away from the concerns of daily civilization. The third movement tests the distinction between Allegretto and Scherzo, a dark, powerful dance that often hints at Mahler’s especial sarcasm, mystery, and contrapuntal acerbity. The last movement, Allegro, presents us a martial, confident tune that contains folk elements, not so far from an Elgar sensibility, but colored by Nielsen’s wry and massive textures. Conductor John Frandsen (1918-1996) adjusts Nielsen’s striking and shifting temperaments with fine-tuned skill, pacing the individual lines of melody and rhythmic ostinati with convincing units of phrase, creating an sense of inevitability to the colossal, assertive peroration that ends this often blazing piece of orchestral virtuosity.

Musicologist and commentator Deryck Cooke once declared Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony the greatest such score of the 20th Century; whether this hyperbole works or not, the piece demands a certain concession to genius, given its scale and vibrancy of colorful imagination under Tuxen (1902-1957). The long, weaving harmonies and moody impulses in the bass of the first movement pass through Bartok and Shostakovich easily; then, the various tympanic and snare drum choirs enter and mark a new direction in music altogether. The wind choir of the Danish State Radio Symphony proves itself the equal of any ensemble in the pantheon of orchestral excellence. Swirling winds and angry snare riffs converge, while the strings drive forward a theme not so far divorced from Ravel’s Bolero. The orchestral colors and effects become more seemingly random; and the music’s dark, dirge-like, mellifluous arioso tires to offer some consolation in the midst of crisis. Eventually, Nielsen combines the two impulses and thus defines the alternately poignant and heroic contradictions of his times. The second section combines scherzo, intermezzo and finale, the first of these a perpetual mobile in angry, irregular accents, haunted and driven by inner demons. The inertia finally dissipates–or entropy sets in–and then light strings begin a fugato of impish character that the bassoon, clarinet and tympani assume, the agogics once more becoming lunatic, a kind of Danish hexentanz. Another quiet episode ensues, led by high strings, diviso; Nielsen uses counterpoint to subdue the chaos. So many mecurial, inner tempests in this composer’s soul, including his own version of rapture! Nielsen’s lets his trumpets speak, and another whirlwind carries to the extended coda, punctuated by mocking accents in winds and brass. The world threatens to explode, as had the politics from which this severe, apocalyptic piece was born. A grateful 1950 audience applauds the musical dynamo in the form of Erik Tuxen and his thoroughly prepared Danish players.

–Gary Lemco

Related Reviews