Symphony No.2, Op.16 (The Four Temperaments)
Symphony No.4, Op.29 (The Inextinguishable)
Symphony No.4 in B-flat, Op.60
Sinfonia concertante in B-flat, Hob.I/105
Leo Hansen (violin), Alberto Medici (cello)
Waldemar Wolsing (oboe), Carl Bloch (bassoon) [Haydn]
Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Recorded between 1931 & 1956
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: October 2020
CD No: DANACORD DACOCD 881 (2 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 29 minutes
Several of these recordings by Launy Grøndahl – chief conductor of the Danish State Radio Symphony Orchestra from 1925 to 1956 – have appeared on the excellent 30-disc Danacord box of historic Nielsen recordings but not all the transfers sound exactly the same. Symphony No.4 which is placed first in the new set must have been taken from the HMV 78s. There is a touch more treble in the later transfer and at one point I think I heard a slight shudder of the stylus (giving a ‘period’ feel). This 1951 performance is full of understanding, it surges dramatically forward unifying the four movements which are composed with no breaks between them. The mono recording means that Nielsen’s requirement for the two sets of timpani to be set apart cannot be represented. These instruments have much to say and their parts are hugely assertive. The timpani sound in the earlier movements is modest but reasonably audible however, in the finale their fierce interventions seem underplayed – it is unfortunate that in this very perceptive performance they make so little impact. Grøndahl has a mighty overall conception but the sound, perhaps adequate in its day, does not do it justice.
Symphony No.3 is taken from Grøndahl’s performance given at a memorial concert two weeks after the composer’s death on October 3rd 1931. Unfortunately the machinery of the time was able to capture only excerpts from the first, second and fourth movements. The swinging rhythm heard within the first grips the attention and the recording, though hollow in sound is adequately balanced. The 25 bars captured from the Andante pastorale include the wordless voices and the dashing Finale confirms the commitment of the orchestra. This was clearly a very special performance on an important occasion.
The sound of Symphony No. 2 ‘The Four Temperaments’ is good, if a little distant but it still represents the power of Grøndahl’s performance and there is very little loss of detail. This is generally a broad reading, always strong in impulse and the timpani entries in the finale are hurled excitingly at the listener. Admirably, Grøndahl respects Nielsen’s requirement that the gawky, semi-humorous march that ends the work should be “more dignified”.
Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony is modest regarding dynamic contrast, but firm, unhurried and well-proportioned except for the extraordinary decision to omit the first-movement repeat yet observe that of the Finale. At the same concert on June 7 1956, this excellent reading of Haydn’s Sinfonia concertante\ was given. The four soloists were section leaders of the Danish State Radio Symphony Orchestra and it is interesting to note that some years earlier these players recorded the same work under the direction of Fritz Busch. The recording details the instruments with admirable clarity and there is much depth of orchestral sound.
‘Dance of the Cockerels’ from Maskarade which here comes from the final side of the 78rpm set of the Fourth Symphony, is given a delightful rendering that overcomes the lack of recorded clarity. At the Bier of a Young Artist was composed in 1910 in the days after the death of painter Oluf Hartmann for performance at his funeral. It was also played at Nielsen’s own funeral. It is an intense piece with pauses for thought before each new melody. Only at the end is there comfort when double basses enter strongly to enrich the calm conclusion. Grøndahl’s 1947 adequately recorded studio performance has a depth of feeling that enhances the tragic nature of the work.