Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphonies: No. 2
, “The Four Temperaments”;
, “Sinfonia Espansiva”
Colin Davis, cond; London SO; Lucy Hall (sop); Marcus Farnsworth (bar)
LSO LIVE 0722 (SACD: 66:35) Live: Barbican, London 12/4&6/2011, 12/11&13/2011
Colin Davis brings a fiery élan to “The Four Temperaments” that was lacking in his previous Nielsen disc (at least I thought so, in
34:5; Henry Fogel was much more positive). The Danish composer’s unique, vibrant harmonies blaze forth gloriously; no two consecutive measures of the opening
could be anyone but Nielsen. The score’s occasional awkward transitions are well managed—smoothed over if still noticed, perhaps only from past experience. The “Phlegmatic” second movement, not one of Nielsen’s strongest, goes as well as can be expected. Composer, conductor, and orchestra return to top form in the
, creating a powerhouse movement that should rock any listener. The many moods of the finale are distinctly presented, although there are a few moments of uncertain unity at the start, and the main line doesn’t always emerge clearly from the mass of Nielsen’s background details. Perhaps energy flags, as the final coda plods a bit. Nevertheless, this performance of the Second Symphony ranks near the top, with two of its movements as fine as I have heard. Morton Gould’s Chicago Symphony on RCA remains a uniquely virtuosic performance—demonstrating what is missing from Davis’s finale—but it is exhausting in its excessive speed and lacks the weight of this London Symphony recording.
That suggestion of flagging energy is emphasized by the opening moments of the Third Symphony, which again blaze with magnificent spirit. The entire movement is stunning. The
is lovely, except that the baritone’s entrance doesn’t go smoothly. The finale’s coda has an Elgarian cast, which a few conductors (Bernstein, Bostock) manage to escape. Davis does not; again, it may be flagging energy. The notably dry acoustics of the Barbican don’t do Nielsen much damage, as his music has rather cool surfaces, but the hall’s lack of clarity may contribute to the troubles in the finales. SACD cleans up the sound (more than it should: Why does the CD layer have to be so poor?), and surround sound adds a healthy dose of air to the proceedings.
Among other recent Nielsen symphony issues, Douglas Bostock leads exciting, brassy, but inconsistent performances, and his Membran recordings have sweet, warm, over-reverberant sound in a thrillingly live acoustic, but his Liverpool Philharmonic is not quite up to the great orchestras. Alan Gilbert’s New York Philharmonic is, but his Nielsen is not tense enough. In a
36:4 review of Gilbert’s Third and Second, Jerry Dubins offered detailed comparisons of Bernstein and Gilbert’s Nielsen, with which I agree completely. Colin Davis was 84 when these 2011 performances took place, but he displays the passion and strengths of the young man who recorded a great “Eroica” with the BBC Symphony more than four decades earlier. More power to him!
FANFARE: James H. North
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