Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sinfonia Espansiva - Carl Nielsen


You cannot listen to Nielsen and not become a better person for it. This is one of the most humane symphonies. The first few notes hold you spellbound. Great hammer blows from the whole orchestra, abrupt and jolting like pokes of fortissimo that come as a shock. There is an odd rhythmic pattern to them; yet, you cannot tell when the next turn is coming. Each feels like a thunderclap. The music springs to life taking form right before your ears. The music soars and expands. It is indeed 'Espansiva'. You are on a roller coaster that swings you from side to side so that you never know exactly where you are going. You only feel the excitement of the thrilling ride. This title represents Nielsen's genius at creating music that continually expands itself like a breathing organism, unpredictable and forever forward. The opening movement as I said earlier is friendly after the introductory percussion onslaught following which there is a distinct Danish flavoured theme that opens the bluff. The second movement is a 'Pastorale'. Here, a tenor/baritone and a soprano thread through the instrumental patterns with pipe organ arpeggios in the background together with french horns, oboe and flute. The two soloists wordlessly intone an aura of landscape and panorama. The third movement is a neat scherzo with an opening statement on the french horns that concludes softly on the timpani, oboe and bassoon. The finale has a big, simple tune. More contrapuntal entries open up. The brass introduce an apocalyptic impulse into the continuity with a canon that is exotically harmonised with punctuated rhythms to end in a rapt climax. This recording is good with Schonwandt delivering a charged performance with the Danish National Radio Orchestra. The best performance of this symphony comes from Leonard Bernstein with the same orchestra and one of his early sixties' recordings with the New York Philharmonic.

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