Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
After his gruesome Elgar Second, I have to confess that I had low expectations for this release of Nielsen’s Fourth and Fifth. After all, very few conductors do equally well by both works. Gibson, for example, produced a great Fourth and a limp Fifth, while Salonen delivered a fine Fifth but a distorted Fourth. In the event, Oramo succeeds in both, big time. His “Inextinguishable” is lithe, propulsive, well-proportioned, and he actually gets the tempo relationships right in the finale, which features terrific timpani battles and a thrilling peroration at the end. The performance
also has plenty of personality, particularly in the finale, in terms of unusually clear phrasing and articulation, as well as impressively well-judged balances between brass and strings.
As for the Fifth, let’s get right to the point: it has one of the best snare drum cadenzas in the first movement of any recent performance. Oramo doesn’t pull out all of the stops too early: the initial eruption of Nielsen’s “evil forces” might strike some listeners as a touch tame, but this is only to save the best for the movement’s second half, where it really counts. The result is one of the most organic and cohesive versions of the opening movement yet committed to disc. Happily, the second movement goes just as well, with a mightily crazy first fugue, and a perfectly judged recapitulation and coda. The breath pause before the final chord is surely exactly what the composer ordered. BIS’ SACD sonics are, typically, excellent. If you want Nielsen’s two greatest symphonies on a single disc, you can’t do better than this.
– David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5
Sakari Oramo, cond; Royal Stockholm PO
BIS 2028 (SACD: 69:46)
These recordings have such electricity that I would have guessed that they are live performances. The booklet, however, suggests otherwise, listing simply “August 2012” as the recording date for the Fourth Symphony, and “June 2013” for the Fifth.
Nielsen’s symphonies have been lucky on records. My first exposure to them was in the recordings by Bernstein (Nos. 2, 3, 4, and 5) and Ormandy (Nos. 1 and 6) and those remain enjoyable. Nevertheless, Oramo eclipses Lenny in both of these works, much as other, younger conductors have come along and eclipsed Lenny’s Mahler. Neither composer needs special pleading or a hard sell any longer. Oramo conducts these symphonies with far more subtlety and nuance, and we are not beaten over the head with interpretive points. The “Inextiguishable” (No. 4), sometimes undervalued by being touted as a stereophonic showpiece (the antiphonal timpani in the last movement are a big opportunity, indeed), has more to offer. It is in the quieter sections where Oramo is particularly telling—for example, in the third movement’s chamber music-like textures. The Royal Stockholm Philharmonic does outstanding work here, not just in producing massive sonorities, but also in the solo writing, which is anything but routine. Indeed, it seems that Oramo has challenged received wisdom about this symphony, and has interpreted it afresh. In turn, the symphony itself comes across with uncommon freshness.
Similarly, the Fifth Symphony sometimes is pigeonholed as a response to the Great War, and much is made of the disruptive, militaristic influence of the side drum. Again, these are just starting points, and there is more to this symphony than early sleeve note commentators let on. As in the Fourth Symphony, Oramo seems to have started from scratch in interpreting this work, and the results are more interesting and penetrating than ever before. One particularly interesting feature of Oramo’s conducting, in both of these works, is that his willingness to play up the music’s internal contrasts does not weaken the symphonies’ overall structures. If anything, both works hold together even more tightly than usual. I’m hoping that Oramo will go on to record Nielsen’s other orchestral works for this label with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. If he does, the finished cycle probably will be the new top choice. The super-realistic engineering also adds to the strong impact of the music-making on this SACD. Most enthusiastically recommended!
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Works on This Recording
Symphony no 5, Op. 50 by Carl Nielsen
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1921-1922; Denmark
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