LSO Live – Colin Davis conducts Nielsen 4 & 5

0 of 5 stars

Symphony No.4, Op.29 (The Inextinguishable)
Symphony No.5, Op.50

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis

Recorded 1 & 4 October 2009 (Symphony 5) and 6 & 9 May 2010 in Barbican Hall, London

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: January 2011
Duration: 67 minutes



LSO Live launches into 2011 with these powerful performances of Carl Nielsen’s two best-known symphonies conducted by Sir Colin Davis, who over three seasons, culminating in 2012, will conduct and record all six of the Great Dane’s symphonies.

Both performances here are driven and intense, especially the ‘Inextinguishable’ (1916), Colin Davis the master of the music’s nags, confidences and outbursts, striding its doubts and compassion, and immersing its detours into the whole while capturing the music’s indomitable spirit in the face of adversity. Davis’s honesty and directness pay many dividends and grips the attention over (here) 31 minutes, conflicts (not least between the two timpanists in the finale) made vivid leading to a valiant conclusion, which seems reached almost too soon, but such a foreshortening is for the senses in relation to what can seem life’s unassailable travails.

Under Davis the Fifth Symphony (1922) is another cogent affair. If the opening paragraphs are arguably too pastoral and comfortable, if not lacking gaudiness (Nielsen’s off-the-wall orchestration relished), Davis leads a big-hearted account alive to rhythmic patterns and emotional dignity, the accumulation and release of tension acutely judged. The side drum’s intervention (partly improvised, as Nielsen directs) could be even more show-stopping and orchestra-halting, but Andrew Marriner’s clarinet solo is haunting in its response, quietly eloquent and sadly reflective. The second and last movement is especially impressive, momentous in the fugal section, deeply moving in the slow epilogue before the resounding final bars.

While neither performance can be considered the last word, both accounts are compelling and recommendable – both to Nielsen aficionados and anyone coming new to this unique composer, who Colin Davis describes as “much wilder than Sibelius”. Davis has been a vital champion of the Finnish master for many decades, of course, and if his conducting of Nielsen isn’t always as unguarded as it might be, it is certainly ablaze with fervour and humanity, and helps to redefine Nielsen as a composer too often thought of as specialist rather than universal.

The recording quality is approximate to what one hears in the Barbican Hall, a little too bright at times and somewhat bass-light, but the sound’s very immediacy vibrantly projects the music and Colin Davis’s keen interest in it, here a lava-flow of consciousness.

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