NIELSEN:  Symphony No. 1.  Symphony No. 2 "The Four Temperaments."  Symphony No. 3 "Sinfonia espansiva."  Symphony No. 4 "The Inextinguishable." Bohmisk-Dansk folketone.  Andante lamentoso (Ved en ung kunsters bare).
Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Herbert Blomstedt, cond. (with soprano Kirsten Schultz & baritone Peter Rasmussen, Symphony #3)

EMI CLASSICS 574188 (2CDs) (B) (ADD) TT:  77:34 & 75:15


GABRIELI:  Sonata pian e forte. Alla quarta bassa. TIPPETT:  Concerto for Double String Orchestra.  LISZT:  Mephisto Waltz No. 1.  NIELSEN:  Symphony No. 6 "Sinfonia semplice."
London Symphony Orch (Gabrielli/Tippett/Liszt); New Philharmonia Orch (Nielsen) / Leopold Stokowski, cond.

BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4059 (F) (ADD) TT:  72:40

While principal conductor of the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Herbert Blomstedt made one of the first integral recordings of Carl Nielsen's six symphonies in the early-to-middle '70s, along with the three concertos (violin, flute, clarinet), and shorter works seldom heard outside of Denmark. The concertos and tone-poems have already been reissued by EMI in a "Double fforte" box (69758). Now we get Symphonies 1-4 and two more (decidedly minor) short pieces. But how can we expect EMI to package Symphonies 5 and 6?

There have been plenty of individual Nielsen symphonies before and since Blomstedt's Copenhagen overview (produced by David Mottley and vibrantly recorded), along with several complete versions: Ole Schmidt on Unicorn, Bryden Thomson on Chandos, Esa-Pekka Salonen on Sony, and a remake by Blomstedt with the San Francisco Symphony on London/Decca (not currently listed in the last Schwann/Opus). I've kept the Thomson set with the Scottish National (along with a plenitude of individual recordings, commercial as well as private), and heard all of Salonen's, which collectively strike me as wrong-headed in one or more ways. But I never did hear the Blomstedt/SFSO versions, which Richard Freed assures me are superior to the Danish.

Listening again to these Copenhagen performances after 20-some years, I find the First unexpectedly genial, the Second suitably weightier in sound and substance, and the Third most persuasively poetic. Blomstedt's wordless vocal soloists in the slow movement are lovely to hear and ideally distant. If the finale is not Bernstein's tradition-shattering explosion, it certainly is idiomatic. (A Danish audience in 1965 was stunned by Lenny-B's performance and cheered him for minutes; a recording, still available on Sony, was made in advance of the concert. His three other Nielsen recordings, however, range from near-miss in No. 5, to idiosyncratic in No. 2, to a shambles in No. 4, both as read and played). In the 1974 Blomstedt recording, No. 4 is underpowered although idiomatic, whereas the Danish Radio Orchestra's playing is as proprietary and affectionate as the Vienna Phil's New Year performances of music by J-J-&-J Strauss.

There's no Nielsen Fifth this time, but No. 6 turns up on the latest BBC Legend's release of Stokowski performances—a September 1965 studio production with the New Philharmonia Orchestra. It was the 83-year-old maestro's first and only performance of music he obviously studied with care, and just as obviously understood, including a brief parody of Stravinsky's neo-classicism that I've never before heard in any of a dozen or so performances. The Sixth (subtitled "Sinfonia semplice") voiced Nielsen's sad dismay at the direction music took after World War One, especially in the parodistic variations-finale before it ends with a held note on the bassoon.

Nielsen fanciers will want this performance no matter its company on this disc; others may weigh the cost of a Legends issue against the need for another Liszt Mephisto Waltz No. 1 (the notes led me to expect vulgar distortions; in fact it is great fun), a sonorous Stokowski arrangement of Gabrieli, or Sir Michael Tiptoe's early, likeable, albeit discursive and over-long Concerto for Double String Orchestra . These were performed at an Edinburgh Festival concert in August 1961 with the London Symphony, and the sense of occasion is palpable. One would never have guessed that Stokowski was already 79, or two nights before had conducted Schoenberg's gargantuan Gurre-Lieder for the first time since 1932! The Tippett, by the way, was also a "first and only time" for Stokowski. My single demurrer is a program note that fudges a couple of biographical facts, and repeatedly quotes Andrew Porter's pedantic review in the next day's London Financial Times. Subsequently, some of us stateside were decrying his academically written cronyism before the end of the first season of an interminable career on The New Yorker magazine.

R.D. (Feb. 2001)