Nielsen Symphonies Nos 1 and 2

Carl Nielsen’s First Symphony, written in 1891-2, burst onto the scene at its premiere two years later with the gusto that was to typify the composer’s style for his entire career. While Brahms is a clear influence structurally and in the fullness of the orchestration, the symphony conveys a Danish rusticity that is all Nielsen’s own. It is also typical in that it ends in a different key (C Major) than it begins in (G Minor); reputedly the first symphony ever to do so. In the Second (1902), subtitled “The Four Temperaments”, the composer depicts each of the four human temperaments: choleric, phlegmatic, melancholic, and sanguine.

The Seattle Symphony Orchestra recorded highly praised Dutilleux and Ives discs with their previous Musical Director Ludovic Morlot. While these new live recordings under Thomas Dausgaard are fine, they do not reach those earlier heights. For one thing, string figures in Symphony No 1 tend to get lost in the orchestral melee: they are cleaner in recordings by the young Esa-Pekka Salonen with the Swedish Radio Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic under Alan Gilbert.

In No. 2, Dausgaard is suitably robust in the choleric movement, but downplays the contrast when he gets to the phlegmatic second movement. This is supposed to be languid but here it is simply faceless. The strings at the start of the melancholic third movement lack the richness to pull at the heartstrings. Dausgaard’s performance is well played and recorded, but he underplays the raison d’être of this piece.

Composers: Nielsen
Compositions:Symphonies Nos 1 and 2
Performers: Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Thomas Dausgaard
Catalogue Number: Seattle Symphony SSM1024

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