Sir Colin Davis, who passed away on Sunday, 14th April, was into his eighties when he agreed to undertake the Nielsen project with the LSO. This was a serious challenge as – although he has a deserved reputation as a conductor of Scandinavian music, Sibelius in particular – Sir Colin had never before conducted anything by Nielsen. But, he gathered up the scores, took off to his rural retreat and returned full of enthusiasm, wondering how it was that this amazing music has hitherto escaped him. The series of concerts that followed has achieved iconic status and this is the final CD release from that series.
Nielsen was a cultured man who kept a copy of Plato’s ‘Republic’ on his bedside table instead of the more customary bible. So, when he came to write his second symphony, he would have been well acquainted with the Greek notion of the ‘Four Temperaments’ and their definition of the emotional characteristics of human beings. It was therefore a short creative step from the discovery of a naïve painting representing the Temperaments on a pub wall to probably the most colorful and ironic representation of the classic Greek concept in music.
The title ‘Espansiva’ for the third symphony has nothing to do with the symphony’s duration and everything to do with a work that is conceived in big breaths and long paragraphs. This is the most overtly Danish of Nielsen’s symphonies, written at a time when he still believed in the nation state before the first world war and its aftermath turned him irrevocable against nationalism.
The LSO were willing partners on this symphonic journey and their commitment is clear from the quality of the ensemble playing and the many solo opportunities Nielsen provides. It is hard to imagine better advocates for this extraordinary music.
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