Sir Colin Davis, London Symphony Orchestra – Nielsen: Symphonies Nos 4 & 5 (2011) [FLAC 24 bit, 96 kHz]

Sir Colin Davis, London Symphony Orchestra - Nielsen: Symphonies Nos 4 & 5 (2011) [FLAC 24 bit, 96 kHz] Download

Artist: Sir Colin Davis, London Symphony Orchestra
Album: Nielsen: Symphonies Nos 4 & 5
Genre: Classical
Release Date: 2011
Audio Format:: FLAC (tracks) 24 bit, 96 kHz
Duration: 01:06:33
Total Tracks: 7
Total Size: 1,34 GB


01. Sir Colin Davis, London Symphony Orchestra – Symphony No. 4 – I. Allegro (09:54)
02. Sir Colin Davis, London Symphony Orchestra – Symphony No. 4 – II. Poco allegretto (04:31)
03. Sir Colin Davis, London Symphony Orchestra – Symphony No. 4 – III. Poco adagio quasi andante (08:36)
04. Sir Colin Davis, London Symphony Orchestra – Symphony No. 4 – IV. Allegro (08:11)
05. Sir Colin Davis, London Symphony Orchestra – Symphony No. 5 – I. a. Tempo giusto (10:42)
06. Sir Colin Davis, London Symphony Orchestra – Symphony No. 5 – I. b. Adagio non troppo (10:16)
07. Sir Colin Davis, London Symphony Orchestra – Symphony No. 5 – II. Allegro – Presto – Andante poco tranquillo – Allegro (Tempo I) (14:21)


Symphony No 4 ‘The inextinguishable’ (1914–16) :: Denmark remained neutral throughout the international upheaval of the 1914–18 War; but its citizens have always been acutely sensitive to the activities of its large and powerful neighbour to the south. For Carl Nielsen there was an added dimension of philosophical crisis. It may be hard to believe now, but many European artists initially welcomed the prospect of war: here was a grand opportunity for ‘spiritual cleansing’, and a celebration of the traditional masculine virtues of courage, loyalty and devotion to one’s country. Before the hostilities Nielsen had been an enthusiastic nationalist. But as he began to realise the horrors men could inflict on each other for Kaiser—or King—and Country, his faith was rocked to the core. Nationalism, he wrote not long after the war, had been transformed into a ‘spiritual syphilis’, the justification for the expression of ‘senseless hate’.
Nielsen’s faith in humanity may have suffered a setback, but rather than give in to despair he felt strongly driven to make some kind of affirmative statement: belief, if not in human beings (still less in nationhood), then perhaps in life itself. This is an important clue to the meaning of the title of the Fourth Symphony (1914–16). Nielsen added an explanatory note at the beginning of the score. ‘Under this title’, he tells us, ‘the composer has tried to indicate in one word what music alone is capable of expressing to the full: The elemental Will of Life. Music is life, and like it, inextinguishable’.

The motion of that elemental will can be felt throughout the Fourth Symphony. Although the broad outlines of the four conventional symphonic movements can be made out, the ‘Inextinguishable’ is really conceived in a single sweep. Nielsen normally identifies the movements of his symphonies with numbers, but here it would be difficult to know exactly where to put them. Transitions between movements are so skilfully dovetailed that it isn’t always easy to see where one movement ends and another begins. And while each movement has its own themes, the more one gets to know the symphony the more the family resemblances begin to reveal themselves. One senses that the basic thematic material, presented in the symphony’s early stages, is in a state of continual evolution. As the Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus put it: ‘All is flux, nothing is stationary’.

The Fourth Symphony begins in chaos, violence and tonal instability, with massed woodwind and string figures clashing aggressively. But as the fury subsides a calm, singing woodwind tune (initiated by clarinets) emerges that will be lifted up magnificently in the bright key of E major at the end of the symphony. After many upheavals, the initial Allegro claws its way to a massive anticipation of that final outcome (only based on the tune’s final phrase—the full glory is yet to come). But this fades into a gentle, intermezzo-like Poco Allegretto, dominated by woodwind. This has plenty of folkish charm, yet it also has its moments of mystery.

This too seems to fade, then a sudden anguished outburst from strings and timpani begins the Poco adagio. After more fraught struggles this heaves itself up to another massive anticipation of the symphony’s final E major triumph. A moment of wonderfully atmospheric, pregnant stillness (oboe and high strings), and a hurtling string passage lead—after a dramatic pause—into the final Allegro. This music seems determined to sing of hope, yet it meets powerful opposition, as a second timpanist joins the first to lead a destructive onslaught. After a quiet but tense section, the timpani begin their attack with redoubled energy, but somehow the first movement’s hopeful tune manages to reassert itself through the turmoil, now in full E major radiance. And yet the timpanists are not silenced. Their final hammer blows suggest that the struggle to affirm must go on—there can be no final, utopian resolution.Symphony No 5 (1920–22) :: Nielsen’s best-known symphony, ‘The inextinguishable’ (No 4), is in its composer’s own words a depiction of how ‘life was, is, and always will be in struggle, conflict, procreation and destruction; and everything returns.’ Given that it was written at the height of the First World War there was clearly an element of defiance here, embodied thrillingly in the symphony’s closing pages, as the first movement’s long-breathed ‘big tune’ reasserts itself through onslaughts from two sets of timpani.

But by the time Nielsen came to write his Symphony No 5 (1920–22), his faith in life’s indestructibility had been profoundly shaken. ‘It’s as though the whole world is in dissolution’, he confessed. ‘The feeling of nationhood which hitherto was considered something high and beautiful, has become like a spiritual syphilis which devours the brains and grins out through the empty eyesockets in senseless hate.’ It is also true that the rift in his relationship with his wife, the sculptress Anne Marie Brodersen, had left him feeling rootless and deeply depressed. But the conductor Sir Simon Rattle is surely right in describing the Fifth as a ‘War Symphony’. Nielsen himself stressed that the theme of resistance to evil was central. As in No 4 there was a marked ‘division of dark and light, the battle between evil and good’. Here though, the musical depiction of evil is still more unsettling. For the first time in a symphony, Nielsen used a battery of unpitched percussion, centred on an unmistakably militaristic side-drum. At the climax of the first movement the side-drummer is instructed to improvise ‘in his own tempo, as though determined at all costs to obstruct the music.’ This anarchic invasion of the orchestral texture is all the more shocking as it comes after music of almost Brahmsian melodic warmth and radiance —an invasion of ‘senseless hate’ in the midst of ‘something high and beautiful’.

At first, Nielsen considered summing up the Fifth Symphony’s innovatory two-movement structure with a title, ‘Dreams and Deeds’. Interesting—though it’s probably just as well he dropped it: the romantic-sounding ‘Dreams and Deeds’ doesn’t give much indication of the Fifth Symphony’s disturbing, exhilarating power. Even the seeming calm of the opening conveys a sense of something held at bay. Violas play a quietly oscillating minor third, against which bassoons, horns, flutes, then first violins unfold long, wandering phrases, as though trying to define a theme. Before long the calm is shattered: a pattering side-drum march rhythm sounds a note of warning, then the mood changes abruptly. Above a goose-stepping two-note bass figure (timpani, and cellos and basses pizzicato), we hear anguished violin phrases and wailing, shrieking figures from clarinet and flute.

Gradually stillness descends; then the tempo drops to Adagio and the violas begin a long aspiring melody—as warm and grounded as the previous music was restless and inhuman. Then the mood darkens and the side-drum begins its crazed assault. The orchestra struggles to keep singing the Adagio melody (led by blasting horns) till at last order and melody seem to prevail over anarchy. A solo clarinet delivers an elegiac cadenza; but the side-drum’s rhythms, now in the distance, continue to disturb the stillness—a memory, or more likely a reminder, that ‘everything returns’.

In contrast to the first movement, the finale begins with an explosion of racing energy (Allegro). But eventually disintegration sets in—could this be a return to the first movement’s eerie initial calm? Quite the opposite: there follows what the Nielsen expert David Fanning calls a ‘fugue from Hell’ (Presto), punctuated by the shrieking clarinet from the first movement. The fury finally exhausts itself, and a much slower, quieter version of the fugue (Andante poco tranquillo) takes a more meditative course. At its height, the opening Allegro music erupts again, now building a long, riveting crescendo with whooping octaves from horns and trumpets and pounding timpani, as woodwind struggle to keep singing the Allegro’s lyrical second theme. ‘Our work is a continual protest against the thought of death and an appeal to and cry for life’, Nielsen wrote. Rarely has that poignant animal ‘cry for life’ found such direct expression as in the closing pages of Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony. –Stephen Johnson © 2010

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