Nielsen: The Symphonies / Vanska, Lahti SO, BBC Scottish SO
"...There is exhilaration, warmth and a kind of optimism through gritted teeth in the closing pages of the Fifth Symphony, but they only just counterbalance the violence, desperation and general unease. The ‘Melancholic’ slow movement of No. 2 is as dark as I can remember, and there are even premonitory hints of it in the preceding ‘Phlegmatic’ movement – to say nothing of the unsettling reminder just before the end of the ‘Sanguine’ finale. But it’s the Fifth that makes the more powerful impression – as it should. Listening to Vänskä’s performance one is continually reminded that it was written in the aftermath of the First World War. It’s as though Nielsen were asking how one could continue to be positive in the face of such revelations of ‘senseless hate’. The result is a performance that grips as a musical structure, an emotional journey and a philosophical statement... [T]here is simply no other version of No. 5 on disc that’s as convincing and compelling as a whole statement. ...And No. 2 can hold its own even against the excellent Blomstedt recording on Decca – superbly recorded, and with more sensuous charm, but perhaps a little too cosy in comparison. There’s nothing comfortable about this Nielsen." -- Stephen Johnson, BBC Music Magazine [reviewing Symphonies 2 & 5, Bis 1289]
"How do you know that a new recording really has what it takes? For a critic the best answer is probably when he finds himself sneaking time out of his reviewing schedule to listen to it again – and again. Which is what has been happening for me with Osmo Vänskä’s Nielsen Fourth. It isn’t just that it’s powerfully conceived and compelling from first to last (and excellently recorded); the further the performance progresses, the more urgent and moving becomes that sense of what Nielsen called ‘yearning for life, for life’s essence’... [T]he sense of heroic, furious determination grows towards the finale, and is vindicated at the close as the great first movement melody re-emerges through fusillades of hostile timpani (in tune, for a change)... Vänskä’s account of the Third Symphony is almost as convincing. The first movement has terrific energy, and the finale benefits from Vänskä’s rugged determination. But impressive as the slow movement is, I miss the sense of awe, spaciousness and ultimate rapture in Herbert Blomstedt’s version – still my top recommendation. It’s a close-run thing, though, and Vänskä does have a particularly convincing view of the symphony as a whole statement. It’s the Fourth, though, that makes this disc a must-have." -- Stephen Johnson, BBC Music Magazine [reviewing Symphonies 3 & 4, Bis 1209]
Carl Nielsen has sometimes been described as the most underrated composer of the 20th century, but most critics would certainly agree that his Six Symphonies, composed between 1891 and 1925, belong to the great classics of their period. Osmo Vänskä's cycle of the works with the BBC Scottish SO was recorded after his landmark series of the symphonies of Sibelius and before his highly acclaimed cycle of those by Beethoven. Originally released on three separate discs, these accounts of the Danish master's works were received with great interest by the reviewers, with the performance of the Fourth being described as 'of great character and fire' in International Record Review, the recording of Symphony No.5 called 'a first choice, full of intensity' in BBC Music Magazine, and the Sixth accorded reference status in Répertoire. For this boxed set edition, three shorter orchestral works have been included, namely the concert overtures Helios and Saga-Dream, and the 'pastoral scene' Pan and Syrinx. In these previously unreleased recordings, Vänskä conducts the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, which he led for twenty years and with which he has enjoyed such notable successes in music by Sibelius, Kalevi Aho and Rautavaara.
Catalog Number: BIS-CD-1839-40
Composer: Carl Nielsen
Conductor: Osmo Vänskä
Orchestra/Ensemble: BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Lahti Symphony Orchestra