Colin Davis / London Symphony Orchestra

Carl Nielsen: Symphonies Nos 1 & 6

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Following his 2011 release of Carl Nielsen's Symphony No. 4, "The Inextinguishable," and the Symphony No. 5, Colin Davis presents another pair from the cycle in live performances, the Symphony No. 1 and the Symphony No. 6, "Sinfonia Semplice." These may seem like mismatched pieces, because the First reflects the young composer's leaning toward the solidity of Brahmsian classicism, while the Sixth is pulled toward the uncertainty and experimentation of modernism, with the mature Nielsen sounding here and there like a Danish Bartók or Shostakovich. Yet in both are discernable characteristics of his voice, most noticeably in the shapes of his folk-like melodies and in his assertive rhythms and robust counterpoint. Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra give vigorous and unsentimental readings that sound terrific in the SACD format, and the ensemble's incisive attacks give the music a strong profile. Add to this the crystalline lines of the strings and woodwinds, and the vibrant sonorities of the brass playing in top form, and these recordings must be judged among the best sounding Nielsen offerings in the catalog. The Sixth especially makes this package desirable, because Davis and the LSO find the right mix of sardonic humor and bitter disillusionment that Nielsen put into this late work, and they pull no punches in its nastier moments. That's not to say that this is an unpleasant experience, but it certainly is bracing and challenging to listeners who hear it for the first time.

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