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Stephen Habington
Classical Music Sentinel, October 2009

The symphonic compositions of Carl Nielsen (1865–1931) stand as landmarks in the post-Romantic era. Quintessentially Danish in mood, the six symphonies reflect an impressive span of development from neoclassical whimsy to hard-core modernism. The Nielsen cycle is an absolute necessity for any respectable record collection of 20th century music.

These fine performances were recorded in 1999 by Dacapo. The complete cycle is now being re-issued by Naxos. At budget price, the Schønwandt versions represent a serious challenge to the supremacy of Herbert Blomstedt’s San Francisco set. The first volume of the Naxos re-issue offered a sublime performance of Nielsen’s Sixth (Sinfonia Semplice) and the present accounts of Nos 2 (The Four temperaments) and 3 (Sinfonia Expansiva) are similarly inspiring. The Danish National Symphony Orchestra generates a firm impression that they own this music and Schønwandt conducts with enthusiastic flair. The Danish vocal soloists in the andante pastorale of the Third have no equals on disc.

Schønwandt used the corrected critical edition of the scores for the first time on record. This is an interesting point overlooked in the booklet essay. The third volume in the cycle, coupling the dramatically heavyweight Numbers 4 and 5, will complete the cycle.

Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, November 2008

Inger Dam-Jensen sounds quite fine here; tenor Poul Elming is competent. Nielsen’s great ability to write music that seems “almost” simple, just a shade beyond the grasp of the average listener, yet is wildly inventive in the development sections… © 2008 Fanfare Read complete review

Dan Morgan
MusicWeb International, August 2008

Michael Schonwandt’s reissued recording of Nielsen’s First and Sixth symphonies me so much I was eager to hear his versions of the Second and Third. This cycle is not new – it appeared on Dacapo some years ago and was well reviewed here on MusicWeb at the time Certainly Naxos have made a very good job of the transfers and at super budget prices these discs are very competitive indeed. …The first movement [of the Symphony No. 3] (Allegro collerico) finds Schonwandt in ebullient mood, with some crisp playing from the Danish brass. There is plenty of thrust here, not to mention moments of towering grandeur. The recording is spacious and warm, the timps especially well caught. Instinctively, or so it seems, Schonwandt finds the tempo giusto, bringing tremendous urge and a marvellous sense of scale to this craggy symphony. In the last stretch the lewd brass sound splendid, the orchestra forging ahead with precision and weight.

The phlegmatic second movement has a gentle bucolic charm that is hard to resist, Schonwandt pointing up all Nielsen’s instrumental strands and colours along the way. The mournful but lyrical Andante malincolico has some lovely string playing and as always Schonwandt shapes and builds the Brucknerian climaxes very naturally indeed.

There is a real sense that conductor and players know this music well and are alive to its shifting moods. The jaunty, sanguine finale is no exception, pizzicato strings as nimble as can be, the dance-like rhythms both buoyant and propulsive. Again there is some fine string playing, hushed this time, before the music swaggers to a rousing conclusion. In music that can so easily seem rhetorical it’s good to hear a performance with such a strong, purposeful stride.

… Schonwandt gets [the Third] off to a thrilling start. …The recorded sound strikes a good balance between warmth and clarity, with no sign of congestion or glare.

The title ‘Espansiva’, added as an afterthought, suggests some kind of intellectual quest, the rarefied air of the Andante pastorale superbly evoked by the wordless singing of the two soloists. Inger Dam-Jensen is particularly ethereal here. The highly animated Allegretto is reminiscent of the hero’s battle with his critics in Ein Heldenleben, albeit without the oversized ego. It is a far cry from the noble and ennobling music of the previous movement and is again essayed with great polish and refinement.

The Finale: Allegro moves into a jubilant phase, complete with a series of blazing perorations. There is a palpable sense of attainment here, the sustained but reassuring passage that begins at 5:24 nicely articulated. And while triumph is in the air here it is quite without vanity; indeed, despite Nielsen’s subtext the great climax at the end of this symphony has a human dimension rather than a lofty philosophical one. The Danes bring it off superbly, making this one of the most thrilling Nielsen Thirds around.

Schonwandt’s Nielsen has an authority, a sure sense of structure and direction that I’ve come to admire very much indeed. …With just the Fourth and Fifth to come these performances could well attain classic status…

Stephen Habington
La Scena Musicale, July 2008

The Danish National Symphony Orchestra generates a firm impression that they own this music and Schønwandt conducts with enthusiastic flair. The Danish vocal soloists in the Andante pastorale of the Third have no equals on disc. Schønwandt used the corrected critical edition of the scores for the first time on record. This is an interesting point overlooked in the booklet essay. The third volume in the cycle, coupling the dramatically heavyweight Numbers 4 and 5, will be delivered by Naxos in the near future.

Leslie Wright
MusicWeb International, July 2008

This release is in many ways even more attractive than volume 1, containing the Symphonies Nos. 1 and 6 and reviewed here earlier. For those who do not know Nielsen’s music, this would be the perfect place to start.

Both of these symphonies represent the composer at the height of his maturity and both contain many memorable tunes. They are also very well orchestrated and contain both power and poetry. There is not a dull moment in either symphony. Highlights include the Allegro comodo e flemmatico second movement of the Second Symphony and the Andante pastorale second movement of the Third Symphony with its ethereal vocalise by tenor and soprano. But then there is also the Third’s first movement with its great waltz and the symphony’s noble finale. Likewise, the Second has one of the most joyous finales I know of.

Schønwandt and his Danish forces have the measure of both symphonies and for my money beat out the competition in both. The main rival for these works, as with the symphonies in volume 1, is Herbert Blomstedt and the San Francisco Symphony on Decca. I did an A/B comparison and feel that the balance is just tipped in Schønwandt’s favor. There is a certain rightness, a natural pace, that’s hard to explain, but is definitely there in these accounts. Furthermore, the warmth of the Danish Radio Concert Hall is a real advantage in these particular works — not as crucial in the Sixth Symphony, though. At the same time, there is a clarity and lightness that allows all the detail to register. Blomstedt’s accounts tend to be more brilliant, as is Decca’s sound, and at times can seem a little relentless. For example, his faster tempo for the Second Symphony’s finale pushes the music a little harder than Schønwandt’s slightly slower, but clearer version. Also, the sound as recorded in San Francisco’s Davies Hall can get muddy in the bass and make the textures clotted. Schønwandt sets an ideal tempo in this movement and there is a real feeling of joy in this Allegro sanguineo. I still like the Blomstedt performances of these works for their power and the brilliance of the orchestra. For example, those horns in the waltz climax of the Third Symphony’s first movement are pretty spectacular, even if Schønwandt’s more backwardly balanced ones (at 6:09) allow the rest of the orchestra to come through better. Schønwandt also achieves a perfect placement with his vocal soloists in this symphony. They are treated as instruments and blend well with the rest of the orchestra, creating a feeling of distance. Nonetheless, I would not want to be without either recording of these works. Then there is Myung-Whun Chung’s highly regarded BIS recording of the Second Symphony coupled with the Aladdin Suite to be considered. I haven’t heard that one for a number of years, but it was also high in my affections.

A couple of extra-musical details should be mentioned. First, the order of the works as listed above is the order on the disc. Why they placed the Symphony No. 3 ahead of No. 2 is a mystery. However, it also followed this order on the original Dacapo CD. It really does not matter as the player can be programmed to play in either order, if one were wanting to hear the works in the sequence in which they were composed. Second, as in the earlier Naxos disc mentioned above, the notes in the booklet are briefer and less detailed than on the original release — but very good all the same. Finally, since I have a copy of the Dacapo disc, I was able to do a sound comparison. I heard no difference between the original and the new budget release.

This, then, is a real bargain and the best way to have these symphonies at a very affordable cost. Indeed, I would recommend them at any price!

David Denton
David's Review Corner, June 2008

Much acclaimed Nielsen cycle from the Danish National Symphony conducted by Michael Schonwandt has now reached the Second and Third Symphonies. They are conceived with a Brucknerian strength some way removed from that rugged might and cold wind that blows through Naxos’s previous recordings from the National Symphony Orchestra Ireland whose rough-hewn vigour has its many admirers. Schonwandt’s brass are mellow, the strings warm and fulsome, his tempos unhurried, and where you want to feel a shudder of excitement, he brings the feeling of fulfillment. He is very persuasive in the long flowing lines of the Third, the Danish woodwind refined and elegant, while the two singers, Inger Dam-Jensen and Poul Elming, are outstanding in their wordless and distant vocalising in the Third Symphony. Schonwandt nicely characterises the very differing moods of the Second, ‘The Four Temperments’, taking the last movement with less pungency than we hear elsewhere. In sum, this cycle, which previously appeared on the Dacapo label, is one that will give long-term satisfaction, but you may also want to feel that strong northern wind you can find elsewhere. The sound. like the playing, is cleanly defined and eminently satisfying.

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