The New York Philharmonic is a powerhouse orchestra, Nielsen is a powerhouse symphonist, and Alan Gilbert revels in the music’s energy and dynamism. I had the great joy of attending one of the performances of the Third Symphony from which this recording was compiled. As everyone knows, Avery Fisher Hall doesn’t have the best acoustics, and I was sitting in the balcony directly opposite the brass section. The sheer volume of sound that the players produced was stunning, literally. Fortunately, Dacapo’s engineers have managed to achieve a very natural and lifelike ensemble balance in these recordings, without in any way compromising the guts and gusto of the playing. Sample the big waltz from theRead more Third Symphony’s first-movement development section (sound clip below) and you’ll immediately hear what I’m talking about.
As already suggested, Gilbert’s interpretations take no prisoners, and frankly that is just what Nielsen needs. The Allegro collerico opening of “The Four Temperaments” is really ferocious, the finale almost giddy. And yet, Gilbert’s tempos in the Andante pastorale of the “Espansiva”, or the Andante malincolico of the “Temperaments”, are also perfectly judged, sensitive, and expressive. The former, especially, reveals a combination of tranquility and flow unique in the work’s discography. The string playing is particularly beautiful here, and the Philharmonic’s woodwinds, solo oboe especially, do themselves proud in music that often relies on their artistry and character. Gilbert also very convincingly paces the tricky finale of the same work, with its hymn-like main theme that still has to sound “allegro”.
Dacapo, of course, already has an excellent Nielsen cycle—indeed, the reference edition—in its catalog, featuring Michael Schønwandt and the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (also available on Naxos). So the question must be whether or not this newcomer is distinctive enough to warrant the duplication, and the answer is a definite “yes”. Gilbert reveals a genuine affinity for the music, and Nielsen’s athleticism suits the orchestra very well indeed. If this series keeps up as it has begun, it’s going to be stupendous.
– David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Alan Gilbert admits that of all six Nielsen symphonies the Third does the most for him. So can he, in the Sinfonia Espansiva’s centenary year, provide the long-awaited ‘has-it-all’ performance that the piece so thoroughly deserves?
Gilbert gets tantalisingly close on this, the first disc of his new live Nielsen cycle with the New York Philharmonic. He conjures the fizzing atmosphere of Herbert Blomstedt’s famous San Francisco recording, without its faults: we hear the counterpoints, not just the top line, and we get four considered lessons in the meaning of the word “expansiveness”.
In the opening Allegro Gilbert maintains his well-judged speed past the big moment of rupture at bar 388 (5:52), where plenty of others slow slightly for effect. It still grips you because Gilbert gets the contradictory factions of the orchestra to bounce off one another effervescently. For the gorgeous Andante pastorale – music that lies on its back and looks up at the sky – Gilbert has luminous vocal soloists who plant their contributions in the soil of the surrounding orchestral parts.
Where Gilbert really scores, though, is in the tricky Allegretto. He points its game-play in the direction of the symphonies still to come (particularly the Sixth) and from bar 120 to the end builds a kind of multi-layered, arching meta-phrase. The ugly duckling of the symphony is suddenly its subversive heart, and just as expansive as the music that surrounds it.
Gilbert’s take on the Second Symphony sets him apart further still. He pushes and pulls at his speeds in the first movement (brisk first subject, broad second subject) and throughout. He has his players – particularly strings – dig deep into phrases and find shape even in static chords. It makes for a second movement that seems to create its own time and space and a patient Andante Malincolio that unfurls like a Mahler Adagio.
Counterpoints that grind rather than dance, the weight and depth of the New York Phil’s sound and Gilbert’s ear for Nielsen’s symphonic mapping really make these recordings. These are rich and hugely enjoyable performances that add to the undernourished interpretative debate around Nielsen like few others have.
Symphony No. 2, Op. 16, FS 29, "The 4 Temperaments": I. Allegro collerico
Symphony No. 2, Op. 16, FS 29, "The 4 Temperaments": II. Allegro comodo e flemmatico
Symphony No. 2, Op. 16, FS 29, "The 4 Temperaments": III. Andante malincolico
Symphony No. 2, Op. 16, FS 29, "The 4 Temperaments": IV. Allegro sanguineo
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
SuperbOctober 30, 2012By A. Lam (Brookline, MA)See All My Reviews"As someone who was relatively naive to the Nielsen symphonies, this album captivated me from the start. Dynamic performances blessed with excellent sound make this album a great introduction to Nielsen's symphonic work."Report Abuse