Alan Gilbert, Nielsen: Symphonies 2 & 3

Daniel Felsenfeld

By Daniel Felsenfeld

on 10.01.12 in Reviews

Alan Gilbert, the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, is on a mission. He wants to be The Voice on behalf of a neglected composer, as Leonard Bernstein was for Mahler, and he’s chosen one Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) from Denmark. Nielsen is ripe for rediscovery: an unfortunately marginalized artist who writes big, sprawling, quirky symphonies that speak to the Scandinavian condition, but are cast in a high Germanic mold, much like his contemporaries Mahler and Sibelius. Judging from the haste with which many a presenting institution are rushing to claim their own “find” (I’ve got Holmboe and Krenek!), 2012 may yet become known as the Year of the Underserved Composer. On this recording, however, Gilbert and the Philharmonic make’s Nielsen’s case in a dynamic, even extraordinary, way.

Making Carl Nielsen’s case in a dynamic, even extraordinary, way

What music! What big, overstated, loftier-than-thou symphonic-with-a-capital-”S” music. In the course of these two big symphonies – here is one of those rare cases where the word “epic” actually applies – a Nordic lifetime is lived and re-lived. There are craggy melodies and huge crescendos; there are fiery orchestral hits (the opening of Symphony No. 3), passionate longeurs (the slow movement of Symphony No. 2, “The Four Temperaments,” a supremely touching section), and above all an unexpected and individualistic Scandinavian quirkiness amidst the glorious bombast. Alan Gilbert owns this music, and persuades the group to own it too. In such capable and expressive hands the Carl Nielsen revival is well – and thankfully – underway; future generations will have other neglected fish to fry.