Nielsen: Symphonies 4 & 5 - Oramo
BIS BIS-2028 SACD
Classical - Orchestral
NIELSEN, Carl (1865–1931):
Symphony No. 4 ”Det uudslukkelige” / ‘The Inextinguishable’ Op. 29 / FS76 (1914–16)
Symphony No.5 Op. 50 / FS97 (1921–22)
Hermann Stefánsson (clarinet)
Daniel Kåse (side drum)
Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra
Sakari Oramo (conductor)
In 1962, when Leonard Bernstein chose to record Carl Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony, this provided the composer with a wider international breakthrough some thirty years after his death. The work has since been hailed as one of the greatest symphonies of the twentieth century, but at its first performances during the early 1920’s audiences were less enthusiastic, finding it puzzling and difficult to understand.
Although unwilling to provide an explanation of the symphony, Nielsen had however inscribed a kind of motto, ‘Dark, resting forces – Awakened forces’, at the end of his draft score and later wrote that it was ‘something very primitive I wanted to express: the division of dark and light, the battle between evil and good.’ Some eight years earlier, as he began work on his Symphony No.4, similar thoughts had been stirring in the composer.
In 1914, with the First World War about to engulf Europe, he had written to his wife about a work with which he hoped to express ‘what we understand by the life-urge’. Giving it the title ‘The Inextinguishable’ at its publication, Nielsen later explained his intentions further: ‘If the whole world was destroyed, Nature would once again begin to beget new life and push forward with the strong and fine forces that are to be found in the very stuff of existence… These “inextinguishable” forces are what I have tried to represent.’
These two central works in Nielsen’s production have now been selected for the first instalment of a complete Nielsen cycle by Sakari Oramo and his Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra. Having enjoyed a close collaboration since 2008, this team has become ever more fine-tuned, as demonstrated on their previous BIS release, a performance of Edward Elgar’s mighty Second Symphony which was praised by the reviewer in Gramophone for ‘playing of conspicuous finesse and commendable ardour’ in an ‘abundantly characterful, cannily paced and deeply sincere traversal’.
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Recorded in August 2012 (Symphony No. 4) and in June 2013 (Symphony No. 5) at the Stockholm Concert Hall, Stockholm, Sweden, 24/96
Producer: Jens Braun (Take5 Music Production)
Sound engineers: Matthias Spitzbarth (No. 4), Thore Brinkmann (Take5 Music Production) (No.5)
Equipment: Neumann microphones; RME Micstasy microphone preamplifier and high resolution A/D converter; MADI optical cabling; Sequoia Workstation; Pyramix DSD Workstation; B&W Nautilus 802 loudspeakers
Post-production: Editing and mixing: Jens Braun
Executive producer: Robert Suff
Review by Mark Novak - March 19, 2014
Nielsen’s 4th symphony starts off with a bang – a full-throated surge of music almost as if we’ve dropped in mid-movement. This performance holds nothing back. The orchestra is in full voice right away and conductor Sakari Oramo milks the drama. Several pages later, we find ourselves in chamber-like sonorities where fragments of melody are passed from winds to strings to brass. Yet the orchestra is always lurking, waiting for its chance to jump into the fray. Oramo does a masterful job of illuminating all of the textures of the orchestration and manages the ebb and flow very effectively. This is a war-time symphony and the music reflects the panoply of emotions during such trying times. The pastoral second movement, continued without break from the first (all four movements are played without break), features an innocent sounding chorale from the winds along with a plaintive oboe – perhaps a dream from calmer times. Beautiful stuff here! The dramatic third movement gives way to a declamatory string chorale to start the fourth movement and the energy level rises with two timpanists, on either side of the stage, making their vehement presence felt. Once again, the music pulls back but it will not be extinguished. The final pages feature the pounding timpani and full orchestra leading to a radiant major key conclusion.
The 5th symphony is of a quite different character. The opening features a rapidly oscillating motif in the violas with floating winds darting in and out. The mood is ethereal and dream-like. This is subsumed by a march-like rhythm from the snare drum with oriental tonal shadings from the winds as if reality suddenly intrudes on the dream. There is plenty of drama here. Oramo is to be commended for bringing out all the orchestral voices and the recording captures them superbly. Tempos are well-judged and the dynamic shadings create the best possible case for this music. Fugal sections dominate the second (and final) movement with the energy rising and falling. The symphony ends in a triumphant E-flat major.
The recording is very fine (I listen to the stereo SACD tracks with synthesized surround sound). The symphonies were recorded about a year apart with different engineers (Matthias Spitzbarth for No.4 and Thore Brinkmann for No.5) in the Stockholm concert hall with a resolution of 24bit/96 kHz. I hear no discernable differences in the sound which is full-bodied, highly dynamic and wonderful presence with just a bit of hall sound. This is nearly ideal, creating a 10th row perspective to this excellent orchestra. One small criticism with the sound is that in the full orchestra triple forte tuttis, it can get a smidgeon cramped but all else is very good here. With nearly 70 minutes of exquisite music and masterful music-making, this can be highly recommended to any Nielsen enthusiast. Let’s hope that BIS will continue this project to its logical conclusion – the remaining symphonies (plus the violin concerto)!
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