NIELSEN: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2 / Seattle Symphony Orchestra; Thomas Dausgaard, cond / Seattle Symphony Media SSM1024
It’s still hard for me to grasp that Carl Nielsen is still not a repertoire composer in the United States. In fact, it was Alan Gilbert’s programming of the complete Nielsen Symphonies, along with a few concerti, that in part led to his separation with the New York Philharmonic—the board was dead-set against it. But for me, Nielsen is right up there with Mahler as the most interesting symphony composer of the early 20th century, and I was delighted to see, and particularly to hear, this new release.
Dausgaard, who has been principal guest conductor with the Seattle Symphony since the 2014-15 season and principal conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra since 2016-17, is no stranger to Nielsen, having recorded several of his orchestral pieces for Dacapo and included the Nielsen Third Symphony on a Blu-Ray DVD in 2012, is apparently completing a Nielsen cycle for Seattle Symphony Media, having already recorded Symphonies Nos. 3 & 4. He combines the warmth and Mahler-like feelings of Jascha Horenstein’s Nielsen recordings with the brilliance and drive of Herbert Blomstedt and Gilbert in performances that are simple outstanding.
Making an A-B comparison between Blomstedt’s recording of the first symphony and that of Dausgaard is quite revealing. Blomstedt is considerably faster, and therefore generatwes more surface excitement, but there’s something a bit jittery in his account of the symphony whereas Dausgaard does not underplay the excitement but sounds much more connected to the overall flow of the music. Indeed, as the Blomstedt recording continued on towards the ending I got the impression that what he was generating was surface excitement only, sometimes skimming over the rustic lyricism of the music. And there is no question that, although both are digital recordings, the sonics of the Dausgaard performance are overwhelmingly better, not only clearer but fuller in sound, almost like a cinemascope presentation of the orchestra.
Mind you, in presenting such ultra-polished performances I do feel that Dausgaard has somewhat missed the earthiness of Nielsen, but in these two performances at least he makes a convincing case for his interpretations.
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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