Prom 46: Danish National Symphony Orchestra/Fabio Luisi – Nielsen’s Helios, Hymnus amoris & Four Temperaments – Nikolaj Znaider plays Brahms’s Violin Concerto

Helios Overture, FS32/Op.17
Violin Concerto in D, Op.77
Three Motets, FS139/Op.55
Hymnus amoris, FS21/Op.12
Symphony No.2, FS29/Op.16 (The Four Temperaments)

Nikolaj Znaider (violin)

Anna Lucia Richter (soprano) & David Danholt (tenor)

Danish National Vocal Ensemble [Motets]

Choristers of Winchester Cathedral & Danish National Concert Choir

Danish National Symphony Orchestra
Fabio Luisi

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 20 August, 2015
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Fabio Luisi conducts the Danish National Symphony Orchestra on Thursday 20 August. Photograph: BBC/Chris ChristodoulouIf Fabio Luisi’s becoming Principal Conductor of the Danish National Symphony Orchestra (in two season’s time) was other than a coincidence following the untimely death of Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos, there was no incompatibility on the basis of this Prom. That this consisted mainly of Carl Nielsen was itself testament to Luisi’s embracing of music he might not otherwise conduct, beginning with a Helios (1903) unusually well-integrated in conception – the opening pages effortlessly coming into focus and the final evanescence perfectly realised.

Many will have become aware of Nikolaj Znaider through his first appearance at the Proms thirteen years ago. His tensile and intensely inflected tone can be overbearing, but was admirably suited to Brahms’s Violin Concerto (1878) – not least an opening movement where momentum never faltered through the combative development then a rare revival for Jascha Heifetz’s cadenza that is (surprisingly?) resourceful motivically for all its virtuosity, even if the coda was slightly too studied. The Adagio was enhanced by eloquent woodwind-playing, while the finale – not too hectic – had the right buoyancy prior to an infectious coda. As perceptive an account of this warhorse as can have been heard recently at the Proms and Znaider responded to the ovation with a burnished ‘Sarabande’ from J. S. Bach’s D-minor Partita.

Violinist Nikolaj Znaider performs Brahms’s Violin Concerto in D major on Thursday 20 August.Photograph: BBC/Chris ChristodoulouA varied Nielsen miscellany ensued that was arguably impractical yet worthwhile. The a cappella Three Motets (1929) finds Nielsen putting lessons learned from the Italian Renaissance to typically personal use – whether in the restrained supplication of ‘Afflictus sum’, the radiant warmth of ‘Dominus regit me’ or the contrapuntal dexterity of ‘Benedictus Dominus’ – all scrupulously realised by the Danish National Vocal Ensemble. Conversely, the cantata Hymnus amoris (1897) finds the young composer in idealistic mode – its trajectory from ‘Childhood’, through ‘Youth’ and ‘Manhood’, to ‘Old Age’ culminating in a fervent apotheosis of life and love. Fine contributions from the adult and youth choirs, with Anna Lucia Richter and David Danholt pertly characterful in their contributions.

Fabio Luisi conducts the Danish National Vocal Ensemble on Thursday 20 August.Photograph: BBC/Chris ChristodoulouMaybe Luisi saw a parallel in juxtaposing this latter work with the Second Symphony (1902)? It provided an ideal showcase for the DNSO – as alert to the disjunctive contrasts in Nielsen’s depiction of the four temperaments (not forgetting the inspiration came from a comic painting encountered in a Danish country inn than any loftier Classical source) as to their merging into a cohesive overall entity. The ‘choleric’ and ‘sanguine’ outer movements were finely done if a little lacking in cumulative impetus, but the ‘phlegmatic’ intermezzo was ideally conveyed at a more measured tempo than is customary, then the ‘melancholic’ slow movement evinced a brooding intensity as was alleviated but never diluted by the winsome pastorale at its centre.

A superb showing, then, for this nascent partnership – Luisi duly extending what was already one of the longest Proms thus far with a sparkling rendition of ‘Dance of the Cockerels’ from Nielsen’s opera Maskarade. Hopefully he and the DNSO will return to these concerts before long.

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