Nielsen: Aladdin Suite (CD review)

Also, Pan and Syrinx and other orchestral works. Niklas Willen, South Jutland Symphony Orchestra. Naxos 8.557164.

One is not apt to think much beyond the symphonies of Danish composer Carl August Nielsen (1865-1931) when considering the man's output, and it hasn't helped that so few record companies have recorded his shorter orchestral works. I recall an old EMI Greensleeve LP with Herbert Blomstedt that I used to own, and I believe there is currently a DG recording with Neeme Jarvi, and several others; but it isn't much, so this budget-priced Naxos disc from Niklas Willen and the South Jutland Symphony Orchestra fills a much-needed hole in the repertoire.

There are six separate selections on the album, all of them essentially brief tone poems. Things begin with the Aladdin Suite, seven movements the composer took from his incidental theater music. Don't expect anything so remarkable as Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, but do expect these pieces to entertain you with their lavish orchestrations, their inventive dances, and in one composition, "The Marketplace in Ispahan," their uniqueness as the composer tries to imitate the varied sounds of a bazaar, the sounds coming from all directions. I couldn't help wondering while I was listening to this music how it might have sounded in a surround format.

Next are Cupid and the Poet, Saga-Dream, the Helios Overture, and two segments from the opera Maskarade, the Overture and the Prelude to Act II. These pieces amply demonstrate Nielsen's ability to evoke atmosphere and mood, which Willen nicely amplifies. The most intriguing of all the little works, though, is the concluding one, Pan and Syrinx. It's a pastoral piece, mostly sweet and relaxed, at least under Willen, becoming more vivacious as it goes along, then fading off into silence. It's quite affecting, really.

Evaluating a disc's sound can always be problematic. My initial reaction upon hearing the disc's opening "Festival March" from Aladdin was that the sonics were too thick and heavy. But I had just finished listening to over an hour of a Karajan recording from the Fifties that was rather thin and bright. After an hour with the Nielsen disc, its sound seemed just right to me, very realistic (if still a touch clouded). The Pan and Syrinx music appeared especially felicitous, with an excellent sense of orchestral depth. For the few bucks one might expend on the disc, one can afford to experiment with the sound and music.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa