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Reviews: Nielsen: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5 - Davis

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Reviews: 5

Site review by Castor January 9, 2011
Performance:   Sonics:  
The text for this review has been moved to the new site. You can read it here:

Review by Jonalogic January 25, 2011 (10 of 14 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Sorry, I'm afraid I find this one a bit of a disappointment. Maybe, as a confirmed Nielsen-lover who has oft bemoaned the lack of the Danish master’s symphonies on SACD, my expectations were just a bit too high?

If I were to sum this up in one line, it would go something like ‘decent performances, but in typically one-dimensional and dessicated LSO Live/Barbican sound.’

Live performances and listening in the home are – of course - very different experiences. Had I heard these readings live, I would probably have been more enthusiastic. For repeated home listening, and in the context of available alternative readings, however, they do not stack up quite so well.

Both these symphonies are explicit musical depictions of the struggle between good and evil or, if you prefer, the life force and war/chaos/destruction. They require great control and nuance to project both forces with equal vigour. It’s relatively easy to get the dynamic and loud stuff to work, but conveying charm and simplicity in the same reading is much more elusive. However, without that wide-eyed innocence, the violence and conflict is not placed in its proper perspective; in fact, half the picture is missing.

Regretfully both these readings, for me, under-characterise these more tranquil moments. They tend to sound a bit rushed and perfunctory to my ears. Hear, for example II of the Inextinguishable (No 4). Where is its naïve simplicity and intense Danish folk character and flavour?

This lack of flexibility, light and shade in the readings of both symphonies prevents me from rating them higher. They sound like good symphonies in these performances; but they can sound truly great when performed by Blomstedt or Karajan (4) or Horenstein and Bernstein (5).

Regretfully, sound quality is what we have come to expect from the LSO Live/Barbican paradigm. Clean, but dry, up-front and generally unappealing. In fact, the RBCD of the complete early (DRSO) Blomstedt cycle, in classic, golden-age EMI sound, has more air, depth and staging than this. And, as noted above, its Inextinguishable is peerless. Needless to say, the original small-nipper vinyls sound just wonderful, although my surfaces are now getting noisy…

If you must have your music on SACD, then there is no competition for No 4, and the only rival for No 5 is Paavo Jarvi on Telarc; this is a decent enough reading in good sound, but rather generic and transatlantic in feel, and dragged down by one of the limpest Stravinsky Rites in history hanging, albatross-like, on its flip side.

If you are prepared to listen to RBCD or vinyl, then there are more simply appealing alternatives out there.

When will Sir Colin Davis - a conductor I much admire - get some decent sound on SACD, I wonder?

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Review by jeffreybehr January 25, 2011 (8 of 14 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
I too was looking forward to Nielsen symphonies in wonderful multichannel sound. Unfortunately, these don't meet that definition. Jonalogic is so correct. The performances are a bit speedy...rushed...for me, and the sound is harsh in the upper frequencies, a bit lacking in lower frequencies, and MUCH too close. Don't waste your money on this disc.

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Review by Norm February 8, 2011 (7 of 9 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Ok, I'll dissent and agree with the first post on this one. I was apprehensive on two counts having seen some early reviews especially concerning the speed of both symphonies. I've also been shy of anything recorded in the Barbican based on previous experience even in multichannel (dreadful William Walton symphonies).

So I was pleasantly surprised on both counts. Someone cites the San Francisco Bloomstadt recordings as touchstones, and I have that complete set. The interesting thing as to speed is the timings of the two:

Symphony 4 Davis 31:21 Bloomstadt 36 and some seconds (no calculator right now)

Symphony 5 Davis 35:17 Bloomstadt 34 minutes and some seconds

So the Symphony #4 is faster, but not the 5th. Even with that speed, I find it exciting and well played and the same is true for the 5th.

I was also surprised at the sound. In multichannel (including 5.1 subwoofer), its quite good. Chandos "diffused" this is not, and it's certainly balanced towards the front speakers. But there is some hall effect and richness especially in the bass which is really important to the 4th with its battling kettle drums. So while it's not the best of all possible multichannel recordings that I own, it's still good.

So for these ears, its a nice recording that I really enjoy.


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Review by nucaleena August 16, 2011 (13 of 16 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Not sure if my comments here should be classed as a review, - they're more a warning to anyone considering buying this on the basis of Castor's 5 star review. Sadly, nowhere do any of the other reviews mention that Davis hums loudly and consistently thoughout both symphonies, punctuating the drama with long stretches of extreme irritation and aggravation. One of the other reviewers would like Davis to be given better sound: please, for the love of god NO. Better sound would simply mean more audible noises from this conductor and that's the last thing we need. The subject of whether Davis deserves better sound is moot anyway, at least for me, as from now on I absolutely refuse to buy any more discs of tuneless humming with bad (dry and over-close) sound i.e. no more Davis and no more LSO Live. This disc was the last straw and I just can't believe that the humming hasnt been singled out for mention to date. I don't expect to win any "helpful review" popularity polls with this one, but I honestly think I'm being more helpful to potential purchasers than reviews which omit mention of such a glaring fault.

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