Nielsen: Symphonies No 2 & 3 / Schonwandt

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A real bargain and the best way to have these symphonies at very affordable cost. This release is in many ways even more attractive than...
A real bargain and the best way to have these symphonies at very affordable cost.

This release is in many ways even more attractive than volume 1, containing the Symphonies Nos. 1 and 6 and reviewed here earlier. For those who do not know Nielsen’s music, this would be the perfect place to start.

Both of these symphonies represent the composer at the height of his maturity and both contain many memorable tunes. They are also very well orchestrated and contain both power and poetry. There is not a dull moment in either symphony. Highlights include the Allegro comodo e flemmatico second movement of the Second Symphony and the Andante pastorale second movement of the Third Symphony with its ethereal vocalise by tenor and soprano. But then there is also the Third’s first movement with its great waltz and the symphony’s noble finale. Likewise, the Second has one of the most joyous finales I know of.

Schønwandt and his Danish forces have the measure of both symphonies and for my money beat out the competition in both. The main rival for these works, as with the symphonies in volume 1, is Herbert Blomstedt and the San Francisco Symphony on Decca. I did an A/B comparison and feel that the balance is just tipped in Schønwandt’s favor. There is a certain rightness, a natural pace, that’s hard to explain, but is definitely there in these accounts. Furthermore, the warmth of the Danish Radio Concert Hall is a real advantage in these particular works — not as crucial in the Sixth Symphony, though. At the same time, there is a clarity and lightness that allows all the detail to register. Blomstedt’s accounts tend to be more brilliant, as is Decca’s sound, and at times can seem a little relentless. For example, his faster tempo for the Second Symphony’s finale pushes the music a little harder than Schønwandt’s slightly slower, but clearer version. Also, the sound as recorded in San Francisco’s Davies Hall can get muddy in the bass and make the textures clotted. Schønwandt sets an ideal tempo in this movement and there is a real feeling of joy in this Allegro sanguineo. I still like the Blomstedt performances of these works for their power and the brilliance of the orchestra. For example, those horns in the waltz climax of the Third Symphony’s first movement are pretty spectacular, even if Schønwandt’s more backwardly balanced ones (at 6:09) allow the rest of the orchestra to come through better. Schønwandt also achieves a perfect placement with his vocal soloists in this symphony. They are treated as instruments and blend well with the rest of the orchestra, creating a feeling of distance. Nonetheless, I would not want to be without either recording of these works. Then there is Myung-Whun Chung’s highly regarded BIS recording of the Second Symphony (see review) coupled with the Aladdin Suite to be considered. I haven’t heard that one for a number of years, but it was also high in my affections.

A couple of extra-musical details should be mentioned. First, the order of the works as listed above is the order on the disc. Why they placed the Symphony No. 3 ahead of No. 2 is a mystery. However, it also followed this order on the original Dacapo CD. It really does not matter as the player can be programmed to play in either order, if one were wanting to hear the works in the sequence in which they were composed. Second, as in the earlier Naxos disc mentioned above, the notes in the booklet are briefer and less detailed than on the original release — but very good all the same. Finally, since I have a copy of the Dacapo disc, I was able to do a sound comparison. I heard no difference between the original and the new budget release.

This, then, is a real bargain and the best way to have these symphonies at a very affordable cost. Indeed, I would recommend them at any price!

-- Leslie Wright, MusicWeb International

Product Description:

  • Release Date: June 24, 2008

  • UPC: 747313073870

  • Catalog Number: 8570738

  • Label: Naxos

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Composer: Carl Nielsen

  • Conductor: Michael Schonwandt

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Danish National Symphony Orchestra

  • Performer: Inger Dam-Jensen, Poul Elming