Review by Jonalogic March 27, 2013 (12 of 14 found this review helpful)
|Here my love of Nielsen overcame my antipathy towards the 'LSO Live' sound. I wasn't going to post this as a review, but it simply got too big to insert in the discussions section. So here it is, warts 'n all. Sneak preview - I don't like this recording very much... so think of it as a public service warning.
With this release, Colin Davis ends his series of live recordings of the Nielsen Symphonies. Those who have heard the earlier couplings of 1 and 6, 4 and 5 will very much know what to expect by now.
Frankly, I don't think Colin Davis `gets' Nielsen in the way he clearly does - say - Sibelius. Not for a moment that I am equating the two great Scandinavian masters here! Their sound worlds are, of course, completely different, and require different approaches to playing and interpretation.
This whole series of recordings - including these two middle-period symphonies, often sound under-characterised in interpretation. The light and shade is simply not there. In this set, for instance, II of the Expansiva just doesn't sound expansive - it comes across as rushed and perfunctory. And the end of `Four Temperaments', instead of surging with volcanic energy, simply sounds foursquare and rather dull.
I note similar lapses throughout the 6 symphonies - for instance, the charming and rustic middle movements (for example in no 4) tend to be dispatched in a rather dispassionate way. Very far from the naiveté intended, one feels. So, despite the excellent playing of the LSO throughout, there are clearly some systemic issues of interpretation which concern me.
Then we come to the sound. I've simply chosen not to rate it here. If you have read any of my previous reviews, you will know my opinion of the archetypal `LSO Live'/Barbican sound- airless, over-miked*, dead and sterile are the terms that leap to mind. You can't wholly blame the Barbican acoustic, dreadful as it is - others have done far better here. Even the 'Classic Sound' team responsible here has done better in this venue, for other labels (see, for example, their excellent Vaughan Williams Sea Symphony for Chandos).
In this recording, the engineers have added a new twist, duly noted by Castor- they appear to have tried to sweeten the sound and add warmth through digital trickery. IMO, the result is not wholly successful; instead of adding warmth, the main impact seems to have been to thicken textures. In fact, they have contrived a sound which unusually manages to combine thinness and muddiness. As also noted by Castor, the timpani leap at you - they're simply too large and prominent in the mix; exciting but wholly unnatural. The vocal soloists in II of `Espansiva' here are likewise too forward; unfortunately, this makes even clearer their somewhat shaky performance and intonation.
All in all, the SACD stereo layer of this recording - despite its DSD origin, actually sounds rather RBCD-like - and not a good CD, at that! After 10 minutes of listening, I simply wanted to wander off and do something else - a surefire sign of the dreaded CD-itis.
OK, but can we do better? Fortunately, the answer is 'yes'. This coupling of symphonies is also available on SACD in a version by the NYPO under Alan Gilbert. Despite a similarly problematic recording venue (the heinous Avery Fisher Hall, another dustbowl of an acoustic), DaCapo have managed to achieve a far better sound; moreover, IMHO Gilbert clearly sounds more at home in Nielsen's milieu.
On CD, I can recommend the very fine earlier Blomstedt DRSO set on EMI (a great bargain, transfered from glowing analogue, and sounding like it) and the Myung-Whun Chung series with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra on BIS (rather gritty early digital sound, but wonderful performances).
So, for me, this Davis recording simply doesn't get a look-in, I'm afraid. Sorry.
* note I said 'over-miked' and not 'multi-miked'; excellent recordings using lots of microphones are possible- this just doesn't happen to be one of them!
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