Theodore Kuchar leads what is without question the most exciting complete Nielsen symphony cycle available, making this the set to get for Nielsen newcomers. He doesn't put a foot wrong in any of these symphonies, and it's rather amazing to hear how well he handles passages where so many conductors come to grief. For example, the finale of the Second Symphony has tremendous physicality at an aptly swift tempo. So often it's taken way too slowly. Kuchar gets all the tempo relationships right in the tricky finale of the Fourth as well, and he drives the Fifth home with such exultant power that for once that second movement doesn't sound like an anticlimax, coming as it does after perhaps the most inspired 20 minutes of music that Nielsen everRead more penned. Kuchar also isn't at all fazed by the weirdness of the Sixth, its concluding Theme and Variations in particular. Here's a case where simply playing what's written as characterfully as possible really does produce the desired wacky effect far better than any sort of poking and prodding. You simply won't hear a finer performance anywhere. Kuchar is equally sensitive to Nielsen's ear for color--those special moments of startling sonic innovation. I'm thinking of the trumpet tremolos before the grand waltz in the Espansiva's opening movement, or the timpani roll with brushes in the slow movement of the Second.
However, despite the all-around interpretive excellence, it has to be admitted that the orchestra is not quite in the first class, at least as compared to those of San Francisco (Blomstedt/Decca) or Denmark (Schonwandt/dacapo). Don't get me wrong: they play spectacularly well, all things considered. The strings take Nielsen's ungrateful passagework in stride, rhythms are firm, and the ensemble is excellently balanced. Tricky episodes such as the tuba and woodwind exchanges in the finale of the Fifth come off splendidly. Still, there's a certain want of sheer amplitude in the biggest climaxes, such as the conclusion of the Fourth Symphony (after a fabulous timpani duel), or the snare drum-led battle in the first movement of the Fifth. The truth is, even here Kuchar is as good or better than most of the competition, but by the same token, and however minor this point is in the grand scheme of things, the above observations are real and something that Nielsen fans are likely to notice.
This doesn't mean you should hesitate for a minute in buying this inexpensive set, which also is very naturally and vibrantly recorded. What it does mean is that this joins the two other cycles just mentioned (and Rozhdestvensky's as well on Chandos) among the top picks, rather than sweeping the board. And if I sound just a touch frustrated, it's only because Kuchar's conducting really does sweep the board. Given a choice of who I would likely listen to in this music on any given day, Kuchar is the man, and I suspect that you'll agree. He's that good.
-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com reviewing the original release of this title, Brilliant 92885Read less
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 1 in G minor, Op. 7by Carl Nielsen Conductor:
Janácek Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century Written: 1890-1892; Denmark
Symphony No. 6, FS 116, "Sinfonia semplice": IV. Tema con variazioni
Average Customer Review: ( 3 Customer Reviews )
Tasty DanishSeptember 9, 2014By owen r. (lakewood, CA)See All My Reviews"Nielsen's six symphonies progress from an uncomplicated Romanticism into more complex tonalities. The First Symphony is said to reflect the influence of Grieg and Brahms. Most notable is that it hints at what Composer-Critic Robert Simpson calls evolving or progressive tonality: beginning a work in one key and ending in another. This is a hallmark of Nielsen's Symphonies. Symphony No.2 is a tone poem that is conventional in most respects but contains tonal designs based on the interval of a third. Symphony No.3 uses a lyrical vocalise to suggest the rolling country side of his homeland. Each movement flows into the next. Symphony No.4, written during the first two years of WWI, casts a menacing and often desperate mood. Not an easy piece to listen to: tension, aggression and violence permeate it. Symphony No.5 is a further progression into a more complicated style. Here we experience what Nielsen termed ''objektivering'' where instruments, or the players operating them, are given leave to assert their individual intentions, as interpreted by the composer. Dr.David Doughty remarks in this set's booklet that ''the violent outbursts of the Fourth hardly prepares the listener for the sheer chaos of noise and aggression of the Fifth.'' Symphony No.6 is less aurally accessible than the previous five. Nielsen has now moved into an angular mondernism bearing little resemblance to his previous works--not a piece for casual listening! In conclusion, this set is beautifully played and the recording is to the highest standards. There is something here for everyone. At the bargain price of this box set by Brilliant Classics you should not pass it up."Report Abuse
Outstanding CycleApril 20, 2013By Martin B. (Lower Hutt, Wellington)See All My Reviews"This is my fifth complete set of Nielsen symphonies and it is absolutely outstanding. Only some Danish mono recordings of the 1950s can beat them for "feel", but the sound and performances of all these works is excellent. For anyone new to Nielsen, this is the ideal starting point."Report Abuse
Definitive Nielsen Symphonies?November 29, 2012By David Stein (New York, NY)See All My Reviews"I've been an enthusiastic collector of recordings of the music of Carl Nielsen, and especially the six symphonies, for 40 years, since back when the only ones available were a few mono LPs from Denmark. I have numerous performances of each of them, and there have been a lot of good to great ones. Hitherto my favorite conductors for the cycle were Herbert Blomstedt and Myung Wha-Chung, with exceptional single recordings by Sixten Ehrling (#3), Jascha Horenstein (#5), and a few others. Now I have to add Theodore Kuchar -- and I'd put him at the top of the list. I'm not a musical scholar, so this is just a fan's opinion. Nonetheless, I haven't found any other recordings of these marvelous works as consistently convincing. Every note just sounds right, the compositional logic is clearer than ever before, and the performances simply grab you and pull you along every step of these amazing journeys. The Czech orchestra plays superbly, and the sonics are first-rate. I've been listening to these discs repeatedly since I got them, and I like them as much now as they first time I played them. The word definitive is one I would rarely use for a musical performance, because any work can be played convincingly in more than one way. But despite Kuchar's great predecessors in this repertoire, definitive seems to fit here."Report Abuse