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Len Mullenger:

CARL NIELSEN: Symphonies Nos. 2, Op. 16 'The Four Temperaments' and No. 5, Op. 50  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra Douglas Bostock ClassicO ClassCD296 65m DDD
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[See also comparative review with the new recording conducted by Michael Schønwandt]

It is heartening to note that this release is marked as 'Volume 1' of the Carl Nielsen Edition, something which is definitely an essential requirement in our understanding of the complete definitive versions of these magnificent symphonies. First of all, Classico's sound is astonishingly clear and vivid, matching (if not surpassing) Herbert Blomstedt's Decca versions for powerful intensity. We must always live with Grondahl and Jensen's pioneering versions of these works (Danacord/Dutton) but Bostock is now the real modern alternative not least for his option to use real 'sordino' sticks in the 'Four Temperaments'. In this symphony, Bostock almost matches Jensen's unique 1948 account for choleric intensity while the Andante malincolico is beautifully shaped with some marvelous contributions from the RLPO strings. If not quite eclipsing Jensen's account, Bostock's is definitely a clear front runner amongst modern versions and the tweaks of this new CN edition are noticeable to Nieslen afficionados.

With the Fifth we are on more exalted ground, indeed I will continue to state my case (alongside Robert Layton and David Fanning) that this is one of (if not 'the') the greatest symphonies of modern times. The striking ostinato on the side drum, the magnificent hallowed beauty of the Adagio non troppo and the exhaustive 'alert forces' of the final tour de force are incomparable in Twentieth Century symphonic literature. Bostock's reading is once again in the Jensen field (that magnificent 1954 Decca version), indeed his Tempo giusto wavers little from the markings in that reading although the tidying up of the CN edition is more evident here. Nicholas Cox's weaving clarinet compares favourable to Ib Eriksson's whilst the eerie ostinato of Graham John's side drum is also in the top field. The Adagio non troppo is also beautifully alive with the big theme rising out of the ashes in almost sphinx-like grandeur. The quickening up of the savage side drum towards the end of the movement generates unbearable tension and as the glorious theme returns, the sense of exultation and magnificence is almost orgasmic in its hallowed intensity, this is indeed vintage Nielsen.

I am not that sufficiently qualified to analyze the awesome Finale which is distinctly split into four movements, other experts like fanning and Layton have done this before but I will just say that Bostock's quick tempo moves the music along with greater intensity and momentum. The essential recordings remain, Jensen (1954), Tuxen (1955, Paris) and Hoeberg (1933, wondrous although far out), together with Blomstedt (1976/1985). Bostock's version joins this exalted company and how! I await further releases in this series with bated breath and keen anticipation, in the meantime this shattering Fifth will keep me going till the end of the century!


Gerald Fenech


In bars 76-85 of the third movement of the Second symphony Nielsen asks for a special sordino (a subdued or muffled sound) and requests that a small  fan-shaped brush of fine birch twigs be used to create a rustling sound. I attended a live performance where, as on this recording, these request was fully complied with to effect. Those twigs were fully clothed in leaves; now that it is autumn and the leaves have fallen I am sure the sordino would  have a different sound texture.

Len Mullenger.


Gerald Fenech

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