Review By Dan Morgan,MusicWeb International,August 2008
Michael Schonwandt’s reissued recording of Nielsen’s First and Sixth symphonies me so much I was eager to hear his versions of the Second and Third. This cycle is not new – it appeared on Dacapo some years ago and was well reviewed here on MusicWeb at the time Certainly Naxos have made a very good job of the transfers and at super budget prices these discs are very competitive indeed. …The first movement [of the Symphony No. 3] (Allegro collerico) finds Schonwandt in ebullient mood, with some crisp playing from the Danish brass. There is plenty of thrust here, not to mention moments of towering grandeur. The recording is spacious and warm, the timps especially well caught. Instinctively, or so it seems, Schonwandt finds the tempo giusto,
The phlegmatic second movement has a gentle bucolic charm that is hard to resist, Schonwandt pointing up all Nielsen’s instrumental strands and colours along the way. The mournful but lyrical Andante malincolico has some lovely string playing and as always Schonwandt shapes and builds the Brucknerian climaxes very naturally indeed.
There is a real sense that conductor and players know this music well and are alive to its shifting moods. The jaunty, sanguine finale is no exception, pizzicato strings as nimble as can be, the dance-like rhythms both buoyant and propulsive. Again there is some fine string playing, hushed this time, before the music swaggers to a rousing conclusion. In music that can so easily seem rhetorical it’s good to hear a performance with such a strong, purposeful stride.
… Schonwandt gets [the Third] off to a thrilling start. …The recorded sound strikes a good balance between warmth and clarity, with no sign of congestion or glare.
The title ‘Espansiva’, added as an afterthought, suggests some kind of intellectual quest, the rarefied air of the Andante pastorale superbly evoked by the wordless singing of the two soloists. Inger Dam-Jensen is particularly ethereal here. The highly animated Allegretto is reminiscent of the hero’s battle with his critics in Ein Heldenleben, albeit without the oversized ego. It is a far cry from the noble and ennobling music of the previous movement and is again essayed with great polish and refinement.
The Finale: Allegro moves into a jubilant phase, complete with a series of blazing perorations. There is a palpable sense of attainment here, the sustained but reassuring passage that begins at 5:24 nicely articulated. And while triumph is in the air here it is quite without vanity; indeed, despite Nielsen’s subtext the great climax at the end of this symphony has a human dimension rather than a lofty philosophical one. The Danes bring it off superbly, making this one of the most thrilling Nielsen Thirds around.
Schonwandt’s Nielsen has an authority, a sure sense of structure and direction that I’ve come to admire very much indeed. …With just the Fourth and Fifth to come these performances could well attain classic status…