Nielsen - Symphonies 1 & 6

As with so much that comes from Scandinavia, Carl Nielsen was a one-off.

As with so much that comes from Scandinavia, Carl Nielsen was a one-off. Widely recognized as Denmark’s greatest composer he was the son of a painter and decorator - an enthusiastic amateur musician who used his contacts to get the young Carl his first musical job with the military band in Odensee. Carl then moved from Odensee to Copenhagen – where he spent the rest of his life - to attend the Royal Danish Academy.

Probably the single most important character in his life was his wife Anne Marie who was a significant sculptor in her own right. They met in Paris and were married at the English church in Florence. Anne Marie was a strong-willed individualist who was determined to forge her own career. She would spend months on location leaving Carl to look after their three young children. Much of Carl’s anger and frustration at the ‘failure’ of his marriage was sublimated into his music.

Nielsen wrote six symphonies and this recording is of performances of the first and last of them. The first symphony was written early in his marriage when he was still relatively content; it draws inspiration from Brahms and Dvorak and shows early signs of the ‘progressive tonality’ which was to become a hallmark of his compositional style.

The sixth symphony was written thirty years later when some order had been restored to his domestic arrangements. He called it the Sinfonia Semplice or Simple Symphony. The title suggests a work of entirely idyllic character, although the listener will soon discover that it is anything but idyllic. Both works feature folk-inflections, tonal ambiguity and Nielsen’s distinctive anti-Romantic style.

These recordings are the second outing of the LSO in this repertoire, the first being under Ole Schmidt in the early seventies. They are a first for Sir Colin Davis but demonstrate once again Sir Colin’s instinctive understanding of the Scandinavian musical psyche. At the end of the final concert David Alberman, the leader of the second violins thanked Sir Colin for guiding the orchestra through some tricky terrain. The resounding success with which he did this is perfectly illustrated in these wonderful performances.

James Mallinson, LSO Live Producer

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