This is the last installment in BIS' rather variable Vänskä/Nielsen cycle that has not lived up to expectations. A disappointing Third has somewhat dulled my reception to the otherwise splendid recordings featuring a full-blooded BBCSSO on top form.
The Second Symphony is quite successful and Vänskä manages to put us immediately in the mood with a brisk tempo that recalls the 1947 Jensen recording (Dutton) which remains my favourite. The Andante malincolico is stretched out to thirteen minutes and the intense longing of the piece is quite well brought out. The Allegro sanguineo is as boisterous as one could expect lasting just seven minutes, a typical Vänskä whirlwind!
The Fifth is a very different proposition altogether. Vänskä begins promisingly enough with a genuine mysterious touch but otherwise the piece loses interest and wallows a little. I still cannot fault Jensen's iron grip in his unsurpassed 1954 Decca recording (Dutton) and the nobility of the music is not as characterized in Vänskä's version.
An assessment of this cycle leaves me with the impression that it was too much of a rushed job. There are much more preferable alternatives from Blomstedt (EMI and Decca), the Jensen and Tuxen recordings (Dutton/Danacord) and the more involving Bostock (Classico) not to mention Leaper's excellent Naxos cycle that is turning out to be one of the best bargains around. Vänskä fans will also be disappointed that the Lahti Orchestra was not used for this eminently Scandinavian symphonist.
Copyright © 2003, Gerald Fenech