Friday, April 6, 2012

CD review: Nielsen

When the CD for review pointed its virtual finger at me and said, "Tell me everything you know about Albert Roussel," I had to paddle water until I could do some research and listening. But when it said, "Tell me what you know about Carl Nielsen," it couldn't get me to shut up. Hence all the history lessons and such - I really am a historian, not a journalist, at heart - in my review.

The funny thing is that, on first encounter, I hated Nielsen's music. That first encounter was a performance of his (deliberately) erratic and inconsistent Fourth Symphony by a student orchestra. It must have been a terrible performance; I couldn't tell because I didn't know the work then. Anyway I determined to avoid him. I was still in high school then. A few years later, in college, I'd read enough about him in favorable context that I figured I'd better give him another try, on record. This time I hit on the Second and Third, and was immediately sold. The Second is still my favorite Nielsen symphony, and the Third (a favorite of Leonard Bernstein's) probably the greatest by my standards, and if you like the excerpt of the First attached to the review, give them a try.

Modernist Nielsen fans tend to extol the Fourth and especially the Fifth because they're so innovatively deconstructionist. I agree that they're great art of their kind, but their kind is disconcerting, whereas earlier Nielsen is so enjoyable, turning away from it is like giving up this cat in favor of this one . No comparison. And then there's the Sixth, easily as modernist as the Fifth, but it's reconstructionist, and that's telling when the modernists tend to ignore it. They don't want modern music, they just want to kick the cans over.

(One thing I have to add about where in the Sixth "the music dramatically suffers the composer’s recent heart attack." This inevitably reminds me of the moment in Holy Grail where Arthur and his knights are being chased by a horrendous beast, "when, suddenly, the animator suffered a fatal heart attack. [Gilliam pitches over in his chair] The cartoon peril was no more.")

The sample excerpts my editors chose to go with the review are the exposition of the first movement of each symphony. You can hear the bounding energy in the First, and also its terseness, and the sudden modulations at 0.53 and the whole sequence between 1.30 and 1.46; in the Sixth, listen for how the jaunty march that begins at 0.18 keeps getting harmonically undercut (first at 0.26, and differently at 1.28) and derailed (first at 0.32), and then the "bite" of the violas as they allude to that theme at 1.15.

Sorry, burbling again.

No comments:

Post a Comment