Nielsen – Complete Symphonies by BBC Philharmonic

CHAN 10859

The latest offering from Chandos Records features the BBC Philharmonic, conducted by John Storgárds in playing Carl Nielsen’s ‘Complete Symphonies’. Born on Danish island of Funen in 1865, Nielsen had a colourful upbringing and was a violinist with the Royal Danish Orchestra as well as a composer in his own right. As he grew older, his style grew with him, eventually experimenting in progressive tonality, evident in the Fourth Symphony. Nielsen also published his memoirs, where he explored how his childhood and his life played an integral role to his compositions.

The Symphonies of Nielsen are perhaps some of his best known works outside of his home nation. BBC Philharmonic have provided an excellent basis in which to explore these and if I had time to, it would have been interesting to read his memoirs and consider how his life did affect his music.

Symphony No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 7 starts off the album – seemingly quite classical in style and starting off with an innocent quality which continues through to the second movement. The third movement provides a change in character to a darker mood, which the orchestra adapts to beautifully. The most resounding aspect of this album are the constant changes in character in mood, all of which are observed with great care.

When we get offered CDs to review every month, I always look to see if there is at least one thing that captures my attention to help with my choice. In this album it was Symphony No. 5, op. 50, featuring John Bradbury on clarinet and Paul Patrick on side drum. Side drums are fantastic, but clarinets (to me) are even better, so I looked forward to hearing what Bradbury would treat us with. Comparing this to the first symphony, there is a huge move forward in terms of Nielsen’s compositional style. Also known as ‘The Inextinguishable’, it caused uproar and resulted in people trying to force their own interpretations on the cacophony of sound which erupted after Nielsen refused to explain the meaning of his work. And the clarinet? It weaves in and out of the symphony, almost in argument with the drum which interrupts the ‘evil’ which surrounds the various movements.

This collection is one which is most difficult to review because of the sheer volume of music contained upon it. It’s almost an album of two halves – where Nielsen’s gentler style of composition begins and then develops into a completely different, but still brilliant style towards the last few symphonies. As I said earlier, it would be extremely interesting to compare the memoirs and the symphonies at various points through Nielsen’s history which could be a little project in itself. Overall this is a fine album and one which I recommend you listen to if you are a Nielsen enthusiast, in particular.

Reviewer: Emma Longmuir

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