This very welcome release preserves Concerto performances from the Philharmonia Orchestra’s Nielsen Symphony Cycle with Paavo Järvi.
Late in his life Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) decided to write a Concerto for each member of the Copenhagen Wind Quintet; sadly he composed only the two on this disc. That for Flute (1926) – for Holger Gilbert-Jespersen (who recorded the piece during the 1950s) – is whimsical and brimful of character, a range of moods embraced with a sense of theatre, not least an interrupting trombone, and with strong, varied and memory-hugging musical ideas. Samuel Coles plays with much virtuosity and personality and he enjoys a vibrant and deft interaction from his Philharmonia colleagues – whether the orchestra is being complementary or contrary to the flautist – with Järvi alive to details and colours that are projected as a part of an action-packed drama. (Signum also has a Nielsen Flute Concerto on its books, from Juliette Bausor, link below.)
Caprice and confrontation, and a dark lyricism, inform the Clarinet Concerto (1928) for Aage Oxenvad – “a person of somewhat choleric temperament, irascible but warm at heart” – such qualities, and others, reflected in this compelling music, a remarkable and fierce individuality in evidence from a tunesmith composer with progressive tendencies. The single movement, if of defined sections, rages and is soulful, a volatility underlined by a side drum as provocateur. Nothing is predictable yet everything belongs, and Mark van de Wiel plays this demanding work with flair, poise and insight; and, like Coles, receives an esteemed collaboration from the Philharmonia Orchestra and Järvi.
In February 1919 a new production of Adam Oehlenschläger’s Aladdin was staged in Copenhagen, for which Nielsen wrote a considerable amount of incidental music, and spectacularly good it is too, opening with the bold ‘Oriental Festive March’, played here with white-hot intensity, and also wonderfully suggestive, such as in ‘Aladdin’s Dream and Dance of the Morning Mist’, respectively tender and charming. The remaining five movements of the Suite (published posthumously in 1940) are all inventive and appealing, not least the multi-dimensional ‘Marketplace in Ispahan’, full of contrasts and divergences – an oriental ‘Fourth of July’ (Charles Ives) – and the Suite closes with the stamping exuberance of ‘Negro Dance’, Järvi totally at-one with Nielsen’s invention.
The only reservation is a minor one: that the Royal Festival Hall recordings have had a little resonance added (distracting) and that somewhat more space and distance has been found for Henry Wood Hall than is there in person; however the sound is vivid and complements first-class music and music-making.