Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Important disc from the Nielsen Project

From October 29, 2014:

This new DaCapo CD with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Alan Gilbert includes fresh live recordings of two of the greatest 20th Century Symphonies, the first and fourth by Carl Nielsen. These are strongly felt performances; Gilbert calls this "full-blooded, passionate, dramatic and ultimately human music." An early review of the First Symphony, also quoted in the liner notes, called Nielsen "ruthless but innocent - like a child playing with dynamite." Gilbert shows the Bart Simpson side of this astonishing work, downplaying its 19th Century Romantic roots in favour of something sharper, ruder, more modern. The challenge for today's musicians is to present revolutionary music of a century (Nielsen or Stravinsky) or two or three centuries ago (Beethoven or Monteverdi) and make it sound as freshly radical today. This means turning up the volume or sharpening the focus, and Gilbert and his excellent players do both here, to great effect.

I don't mean to slight the Fourth Symphony. This great work, written during the slaughter of World War I, represents the mature composer's deepest thoughts on life as well as music. Its exalted programme - it's called `The Inextinguishable" - might have condemned a lesser composer's music to bathetic gestures and cliche, but Nielsen's default mode is liveliness. His music always has a strong pulse, and this work has such a vital forward thrust that even the grief Nielsen expresses over the violence overtaking the world has its own dramatic interest. Gilbert and the orchestra are again admirably direct and dramatic, and are aided by a clear and lifelike recording.

This is more than a great Nielsen recording, though great Nielsen recordings are hardly thick on the ground. It is part of the vitally important Nielsen Project ( which will present concerts and recordings of the six symphonies and three concertos from 2012 to 2015. Alan Gilbert deserves a great deal of credit for his vision in bringing this music to a wider audience and raising Nielsen's reputation closer to what he deserves: amongst the three or four greatest composers of the 20th Century.

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