NIELSEN: Symphony No. 3 “Sinfonia Espansiva,” Op. 27; Symphony No. 6 “Sinfonia Semplice”; Moderen (The Mother)–Incidental Music – Ruth Gueldbaek, soprano/Erik Sjoberg, baritone/Danish State Radio-Symphony Orchestra/John Frandsen/Thomas Jensen (Sym. No. 6)/ Emil Reesen (The Mother)
Dutton CDBP 9796, 75:25 [Distrib. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
Since the Sinfonia Espansiva (3-5 March 1955) under John Frandsen (1918-1996) has already been issued by Guild (GHCD 2340) and received my review, I need not repeat my happy remarks about this stirring, feline performance in vivid, sympathetic colors. The Dutton restoration process (CEDAR) certainly provides the same, pointed detail in the woodwinds and brass as we receive from Guild’s Peter Reynolds.
So, let us bask in the Thomas Jensen (1898-1963) inscription of the most enigmatic of the Nielsen symphonies, the 6th, the so-called Sinfonia Semplice of 1924 recorded (17-19 June 1952) for the Tone label in the Concert Hall of the Danish Radio, Copenhagen. Jensen had played under the composer’s direction, and so he retained a good sense of Nielsen’s preferences in tempo and texture. This music, which became dear to Leopold Stokowski’s sensibilities, may have autobiographical associations for Nielsen, who had suffered a series of heart seizures that may be reflected in the outbursts that appear late in the symphony. The harmonic development of the work has been called “progressive” – opening Tempo giusto, in a cantering G and B-flat that sounds like bucolically sarcastic Shostakovich. Moments of fugal treatment cause unrest, and the clarinet closes in A-flat.
The Humoreske anticipates Bartok, its athematic contest between woodwinds and percussion devolving into rhythmic flurries and slides that play as gallows humor and remind us of Mahler and Weill. More Bartok (the Concerto for Orchestra) in the enigmatic, somber Proposta seria: Adagio, a labyrinthine affair, often in grueling, haunted colors. The last movement, Tema con variazioni, begins with a bassoon fanfare–as it will end with this instrument’s sarcasm. Nielsen develops nine variations, some in a parallel minor to the B-flat Major that would like to dominate the set. One of the episodes is a waltz in a Vienna style that soon becomes a caricature of itself, the old world crumbling rather crudely. The convulsions become more frequent, perhaps emblematic of modernism. A fanfare erupts, fugato, suggestions of a more blissful vision or folk-dance, then the cosmic raspberry from a composer rather impatient with our political antics.
Nielsen composed incidental music for a play by Helge Rode, The Mother, from which one aria was recorded by Aksel Schiotz. Emil Reesen (1887-1964) recorded the two orchestral excerpts 5 November 1946. The little Prelude to Scene 7 is crisp and warmly forthright music. The March might be attributed to Sibelius, having a gait that is militant in Nordic colors. Its middle section is aerial woodwind music, delicate and woodsy. Lovely sound on these restorations.