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Nielsen: Complete Symphonies 1-6

4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Audio CD, January 1, 2008
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Product Details

  • Orchestra: London Symphony Orchestra
  • Conductor: Ole Schmidt
  • Composer: Carl Nielsen
  • Audio CD (January 1, 2008)
  • Number of Discs: 3
  • Label: Regis Records
  • ASIN: B00005V43B
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #907,504 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

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4 star
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Top Customer Reviews

I have to admit, I'm not as familiar with Nielsen. I only knew that I liked what I had previously heard of his music, before buying this symphonic cycle. (He has written a lovely clarinet concerto that is worth listening to as well.) There's an earthy quality to the playing here that I think invigorates the music and keeps it from sounding stale. There is a lot to delve into with these recordings, and the vitality of the interpretation here helps a lot with the learning process.

Beyond my inability to give more detail about Nielsen's music, a modernist who was obviously influenced greatly by the preceding Romantic era, what holds me back from giving it 5 stars are the technical aspects of these CDs. There is something tinny about the louder treble parts that gives certain instrumental groups (the French Horns, for instance) a metallic sound they don't normally have. But I assure you, this is a minor complaint. If you're just finding out about this composer, this is an excellent group of recordings to start with. I am enjoying them very much.
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The Ole Schmidt Nielsen symphony cycle from the 1970s is revered among many critics and academics, and was a favorite of composer and author Robert Simpson (the book Carl Nielsen: Symphonist). There is plenty of idiomatic character to Schmidt's interpretations, notably the rough edges found in good Nielsen. There is a darker shade to the entire palette, a bark in the horns, etc. that is highly appealing. Simpson liked Schmidt's faithful adherence to the scores.

Schmidt's versions of the final four symphonies (3-6) are among the best options available. The First and Second represent the weakest offerings of this set. The First is good but there are some flaws in execution in the inner movements. The Second is too fast for my taste. An extremely powerful rendition of the Fifth deserves special mention. This performance offers the most savage side drumming of any version recorded, including Jascha Horenstein's (featuring the percussionist Alfred Dukes). Nielsen's instructions are for the drummer to attempt to stop the orchestra "at all costs". This rendition is one of the few that fully live up to it. The Third and Fourth are brilliantly executed, powerful and tough. The Sixth, appealingly slower than many versions, is a clear, sharp, dramatic presentation of a difficult work.

The negatives of the set are minor (and a matter of personal taste). As mentioned, the tempo on the Second is a shade fast in my opinion, but for those who like faster Nielsen, it won't be a problem. I hear a degree of sobriety in some of the performances and in certain passages that, while wonderfully argued by Schmidt, sometimes robs certain moments of full satisfaction. This is an issue that also comes up with with Herbert Blomstedt's interpretations.
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Few 'modern' composers were as fortunate to have conductors like Ole Schmidt (Nielsen) and Paavo Berglund (Sibelius Sibelius: Complete Symphonies) (and I believe, to a lesser extent, Blomstedt (both composers)) champion their music. Unlike so many conductors who fly in to present a concert or make a recording, these two men *lived* the music of the composers, studied the composer's work carefully, tidied-up the orchestration when they thought it better served the music, remove the accretions that had accumulated in the printed scores of the decades, and remained true advocates of the music.

It is fortunate that both Alto (Nielsen: Complete Symphonies) and Regis have reissued these classic Unicorn recordings by Schmidt. I have the Regis issue and although the recordings don't appear to have been remastered, the sound is nothing short of excellent. The quality of the performances is well-known. I cannot recommend this set more enthusiastically.
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