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Nielsen: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 5; Helios Overture; Maskarade; Schultz: Serenade For Strings

Nielsen / Danish State Radio Phil Orch / Jensen
Release Date: 06/01/2010 
Label:  Decca   Catalog #: 4801858   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Carl NielsenSvend S Svend S. Schultz
Performer:  Holger Gilbert-JespersenIb Erikson
Conductor:  Thomas JensenErik TuxenMogens Wöldike
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Danish State Radio Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 36 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

NIELSEN Symphonies: No. 1; No. 5. Helios Overture 1. Flute Concerto. Clarinet Concerto 2. Maskarade: Excerpts. SCHULTZ Serenade for Strings 1 Gilbert Jespersen (fl); Ib Erikson (cl); Thomas Jensen, cond; 1 Erik Tuxen, cond; 2 Read more class="ARIAL12">Mogens Wöldike, cond; Danish St RSO DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 1858, mono (2 CDs: 156:42)

The recordings offered here present numerous links leading directly back to the composer. The Danish State Radio Symphony figured in the first recordings of all six of Carl Nielsen’s symphonies, but curiously under three different conductors, and for three different record companies. In addition to the 1952 recording of the First given here—the only one of Nielsen’s symphonies that did not appear on 78 rpm discs—Thomas Jensen conducted the premiere recordings of the Second (for HMV) and Sixth (for Tono, issued in the U.S. on Mercury); Erik Tuxen made the first recordings of the Third (for Decca in 1946, and I believe the first recording of any Nielsen symphony) and Fifth (for HMV); and, the first recording of the Fourth was made for HMV by Launy Grøndahl, one of the orchestra’s original conductors. According to Lyndon Jenkins’s richly informative notes, Nielsen had conducted the orchestra in 1927, making it entirely plausible that some of the players in these 1952–54 recordings had themselves played under his baton. In addition, Nielsen had composed his Three Motets, op. 55, for Wöldike’s Palestrina Choir, and Gilbert Jespersen had played the 1926 premiere performance of the Flute Concerto, which was dedicated to him.

Of course, this set includes only recordings made for Decca; it is dominated by the work of Thomas Jensen (1898–1963), the most prolific of this first generation of conductors to record Nielsen’s music. Uniquely among the conductors represented here, Jensen had played under Nielsen’s baton. (Barry Brenesal provides more information on Jensen in his review of the conductor’s recording of the Sixth in Fanfare 33:3.) Jensen establishes his credentials as a Nielsen interpreter with a convincing, if not ideal, recording of the First; this is a likable, down-to-earth reading whose biggest drawbacks are the somewhat thin sound of the orchestra and perhaps an excess of interpretive caution. The playing of the Danish orchestra certainly lacks the rhythmic tautness and sonic voluptuousness of Eugene Ormandy’s Philadelphia Orchestra recording of 15 years later, but the Decca/London LP surely won the symphony its first international audience.

Jensen’s Fifth, recorded two years later, has the benefit of fuller, more lifelike sound; it is also an effective interpretation, if a bit inhibited in the wild later portions of the first movement.

The excerpts from Nielsen’s comic opera Maskarade are quite a rarity; recorded at the same sessions as the Fifth Symphony, they were issued only on a “medium-play” 10-inch LP. Jensen plays the brilliant Overture at a hellacious tempo, and supplements the well-known “Dance of the Cockerels” with the lovely Prelude to act II and the less-familiar “Magdelone’s Dance Scene” from act I. Last, Jensen provides the accompaniment for Jespersen’s recording of the Flute Concerto. The story behind the composition of Nielsen’s Flute and Clarinet Concertos is well known (see my review of the recordings by Emanuel Pahud and Sabine Meyer in 31:3 for more information), so it should go without saying that having this document of the musician whose character and playing inspired the piece is invaluable.

Aage Oxenvad, the dedicatee of Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto, must have been a warm but volatile fellow, judging from the music Nielsen wrote for him; he also must have possessed a fearsome technique, as the concerto is notoriously difficult. He unfortunately died before a planned recording could be made, so no document of his playing survives. Ib Erikson, the soloist in this 1954 recording, clearly finds his own technical abilities overtaxed here; while he makes the admirable attempt to tackle the more flamboyant passages head-on (in contrast to the more urbane, understated Louis Cahuzac, who had made the premiere recording seven years earlier), his technical lapses and tendency to overblow in loud passages would be considered unacceptable today. It remained for New York’s Stanley Drucker, the consummate technician of the clarinet, to achieve in 1967—in partnership with Leonard Bernstein—the first recording of this work that does justice to both its technical and its expressive elements, in a classic recording that has yet to be matched.

The two items conducted by Tuxen were originally coupled on another 10-inch LP. Recorded a month earlier than Jensen’s account of the First Symphony, they seem to benefit for some reason from better recorded sound. Helios receives a fine reading—has it ever gotten a bad one?—and the Serenade by Svend Simon Schultz (1913–98) is a three-movement work in a typically astringent Scandinavian post-Romantic vein, without the catchiness of the identically titled piece by the Swedish composer Dag Wirén.

Curiously, most of this music waited 10–15 years for its next recording, so the contents of this set were among the indispensable Carl Nielsen recordings of their time; the best of them still hold up as effective realizations of these then-unfamiliar scores; and, as I said at the outset, all of these recordings offer a special link to the composer himself. That should certainly be recommendation enough to those who care seriously about Nielsen’s music.

FANFARE: Richard A. Kaplan
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 1 in G minor, Op. 7 by Carl Nielsen
Conductor:  Thomas Jensen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Danish State Radio Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1890-1892; Denmark 
Date of Recording: 07/1952 
Venue:  Danish Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen 
Length: 32 Minutes 28 Secs. 
Symphony no 5, Op. 50 by Carl Nielsen
Conductor:  Thomas Jensen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Danish State Radio Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1921-1922; Denmark 
Date of Recording: 04/1954 
Venue:  Danish Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen 
Length: 18 Minutes 56 Secs. 
Helios Overture, FS 32/Op. 17 by Carl Nielsen
Conductor:  Erik Tuxen
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1903; Denmark 
Date of Recording: 06/1952 
Venue:  Danish Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen 
Length: 11 Minutes 50 Secs. 
Concerto for Flute, FS 119 by Carl Nielsen
Performer:  Holger Gilbert-Jespersen (Flute)
Conductor:  Thomas Jensen
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1926; Denmark 
Date of Recording: 04/1954 
Venue:  Danish Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen 
Length: 18 Minutes 38 Secs. 
Concerto for Clarinet, FS 129/Op. 57 by Carl Nielsen
Performer:  Ib Erikson (Clarinet)
Conductor:  Mogens Wöldike
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1928; Denmark 
Date of Recording: 04/1954 
Venue:  Danish Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen 
Length: 26 Minutes 13 Secs. 
Maskarade, FS 39 by Carl Nielsen
Conductor:  Thomas Jensen
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1904-1906; Denmark 
Date of Recording: 04/1954 
Venue:  Danish Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen 
Length: 4 Minutes 0 Secs. 
Serenade for strings by Svend S Svend S. Schultz
Conductor:  Erik Tuxen
Date of Recording: 06/1952 
Venue:  Danish Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen 
Length: 6 Minutes 17 Secs. 

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