The atmospheric beauty of Nielsen's symphonies has only recently been accepted to the popular canon and this was the first complete set to be issued in 1974. Ole Schmidt is indeed a persuasive advocate of these massive works, some of my favourite compositions, especially the Fourth and Fifth symphonies.
The package couples #4 and #5 on one disc whilst #1-3 and 6 are on a double album. Schmidt's judicious interpretation of the First is very similar to Tuxen's marvelous 1957 account on Danacord but the former has a splendid orchestra at his disposal and Unicorn's recording is indeed quite state of the art. There is a brilliant perception in Schmidt's assuredness in the Second Symphony, which describes the Four Temperaments with remarkable alacrity. And the Third Symphony is also very satisfactory with particular mystery to be found in the ethereal third movement.
The Fourth is also a highly satisfactory version, an Inextinguishable that traverses the rugged landscape of the composer's vivid imagination. The first movement is passionate indeed with the wonderful main theme given all the tender effectiveness that is requires. The second movement is a miraculous interlude, full of spiritual wonder and beauty that has the London Symphony and Schmidt on top form. There is also much to enjoy in the rugged cragginess that permeates the Third movement, which is played with a daredevil abandon. And in the Finale all is resolved in a grandeur and fire that very much reminds me of Jensen and Grondahl in their timeless interpretations that remain essential for any listener who is totally involved in this symphony.
Many say that the Fifth is Nielsen's greatest symphony, and I would not depart from that universal view. Ole Schmidt's interpretation is also from the top drawer with a rhythmically succinct First Movement that also displays some wonderful London Symphony playing especially in the quiet lyrical passage. The conflict that threatens to undermine the Finale is also brilliantly handled by Schmidt who looks to his mentor, Thomas Jensen (Decca/Dutton CDLXT2502) for pacing this interminably difficult movement. The Sixth is also brilliantly played and Schmidt scores full marks for balancing the strict rigidity of the structural fallacy with the lyrical wonder and mystery that often make their appearance, at times almost in disguise.
Regis have now reissued these exemplary recordings at budget price and with very evocative packaging to boot. They are still important reference points for the Nielsen scholar and still retain an importance in the canon of recordings. The other comparison at budget level is Adrian Leaper's excellent set on Naxos but I would still have Schmidt at any cost, especially in the bargain sector. Listening again to those final moments from 'The Inextinguishable' brought back many memories of my discovery of this seminal work in the symphonic repertoire and I must say that Schmidt is definitely a key interpreter of the composer.
Copyright © 2002, Gerald Fenech