One of the 20th-C's Major Contributors to the Concerto Genre
Karl Henning | Boston, MA | 08/13/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Nielsen composed a woodwind quintet, and then planned to write a set of five concertos, one for each member of the woodwind quintet. In the event, he completed concertos only for the flute and clarinet (in addition to the earlier violin concerto). This is devastating news for the hornists in the world, particularly ... for a Nielsen horn concerto would be a gold nugget in the solo horn rep. No question.Nielsen's contribution to the concerto genre is at the head of an oddly small collection of 20th composers, a small minority who composed concerti for more than one single-line instrument. The great Russians, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich, all wrote concerti both for violin and for piano; but none for solo wind instrument. What I know of the concertos of the only other 20th-century composer to write for more than one wind -- Hindemith -- does not seem to me to match the quality of Nielsen's work in the genre.Nielsen ought to write a violin concerto well -- the instrument was his principal study for three years at the Copenhagen Conservatory, and he played at a second desk in the Royal Danish Orchestra for the premiere of his own first symphony, in March of 1894. The violin concerto is a moving, and absorbing work; in many respects solidly rooted in the rich tradition of the violin concerto repertory, but it benefits from that tradition rather than bogging down in it. There is even the occasional foreshadowing of the humor Nielsen shows in the later wind concerti, such as the end of the first movement where the horns "wobble" in imitation of the solo violin.The clarinet concerto is dynamite; a great piece for the soloist to play, and the finest clarinet concerto since Mozart's. Nielsen takes the inherent soloist-vs.-orchestra "contest" which is at the heart of the concerto, and expands the contest. In the case of the clarinet concerto, the snare drum sometimes comes to the fore to serve as a chief "antagonist" of the solo part. For the flute concerto, it is the boorish trombone which antagonizes the super-elegant flute solo.The performances on this disc, both orchestra and soloists, are solid, musical, polished."
G. Metcalf | United States | 10/10/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"All three concertos on this disc are excellent. Nielsen uses all three solo instruments in a captivating way. Particularly the flute concerto here is great; with the drums and other elements this concerto lacks the usual wispy campy quality found in many flute pieces. The recorded sound is also very good. I can't add much more to the comments of the other reviewer and would refer the reader to his review (I bought it at his recommendation and have not regretted it)"
Nielsen's three concertos
Russ | Richmond, VA | 08/20/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Here we have the complete concertos of the Danish composer Carl Nielsen (1865-1931). Nielsen originally planned to compose a concerto for each member of the Copenhagen Wind Quintet; however Nielsen only got around to the Flute Concerto (1926) and the Clarinet Concerto (1928).
The Violin Concerto (1912) is an earlier work. If you enjoy the ultra Romantic third and fourth symphonies, you will definitely enjoy the Violin Concerto. Nielsen remarked that he wanted to concerto to be "popular and showy without being superficial." And indeed, this is a very "showy" concerto. The concerto is divided into two sections, each beginning slowly, but concluding briskly. The fast section of the first movement contains a great theme and a lot of fiery violin playing, with an exhilarating coda to boot. The final movement takes the form of a delightful rondo. Those familiar with the symphonies will note all of Nielsen's melodic and harmonic trademarks in this concerto. Listen to the aggressive lower strings battle against the soaring French horn clarion calls at the 3:40-mark on the third track and you'll know what I'm talking about. This is a fantastic piece, and I am a little baffled why it is not better known.
The Flute Concerto and Clarinet Concerto belong to Nielsen's later period, with the spiky and sparse sixth symphony coming to mind. The soloist has an antagonist in each of these concertos. In the Clarinet Concerto, it is the snare drum, while in the Flute Concerto, it is the trombone. The snare part heard in the Clarinet Concerto is reminiscent of the conclusion of the sixth symphony. The solo part in the Clarinet Concerto is extremely difficult, and Nielsen makes dual use of the instrument, sometimes exploring the warm and lyrical aspects of the clarinet's timbre, while in others the piercing and menacing quality of the clarinet's upper register is used. The Clarinet Concerto is a bit bizarre, sometimes frightening (11-minute-mark), but is generally interesting. The Flute Concerto is a bit more "traditional" in comparison to the Clarinet Concerto, and contains some of the lyricism found in Nielsen's earlier symphonies. But, this lyricism is often offset by more modern ideas. Nielsen's intent is to contrast the graceful flute part against the rude interjections of the trombone player. I especially enjoy the conclusions to each of the concerto's two movements, with the exotic and beautiful ending of the first movement contrasted against the frolicking finish to the second movement where the flute and the "glissando-ing" trombone seem to reach a truce.
Wind concertos are a bit of an oddity in twentieth century music, but perhaps these two concertos were an influence on Nielsen's fellow Dane, Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996), as he was composing his fantastic wind concertos and concertinos. If you like these works by Nielsen, the concertos of Holmboe are well-worth exploring.
Nielsen's concertos are far less known in comparison to his symphonies. This is a shame, as these pieces deserve to be better known, especially the dramatic violin concerto. The playing by the soloists and orchestra is very good and is matched by the excellent engineering by Naxos.