Thursday, November 27, 2008

Nielsen, Danish dynamite

Most classical music lovers know the name of the most important Danish composer Carl Nielsen (1865-1931), but it is surprising how many of them have actually hardly heard little or nothing of his compositions - in contrast to say his contemporary Sibelius. To my taste his six symphonies and three concertos are amongst the finest examples of those genres in the first half of the 20th century. This Naxos CD of his concertos, for violin, for clarinet and for flute, makes an excellent introduction. The beautiful violin concerto dates from 1911, and is a typical late romantic dramatic concerto - showing off that the composer played the instrument himself. The flute concerto from 1926 is perhaps more original, if only by the choice of the solo instrument. But for me the main concerto here is the clarinet concerto from 1928, a stunningly modern work, with an important role for the snare drum as antagonist of the clarinet. Early critics remarked that it sounded like a concerto from another planet. For me this is the second best clarinet concerto of all time, surpassed only by Mozart's masterpiece. The performances on this Naxos CD, with its running time close to 80 minutes, are excellent. Highly recommended as a real bargain introduction to this somewhat overlooked giant.