October 2006

Nielsen - Complete Symphonies 1-6;   The Light and the Darkness
Danish National Symphony Orchestra; Michael Schønwandt, conductor
Da Capo 2.110403
Format: DVD
Released: 2006

by Rad Bennett

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Image Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

This is a significant set for those who collect classical music on DVD, and it might serve as an introduction for others who have yet to try the format for music. All six of the Danish composer’s symphonies are presented intact, idiomatically performed with passion and finesse by some of Denmark’s finest musicians. The readings have breadth, precision, warmth, passion, and clarity, all elements needed to present this music correctly. The orchestra is on its toes at all times and proves to be a world-class ensemble, due in no small part to its conductor’s no-nonsense leadership.

It would appear that the video, shot in 2000, was mastered for HD widescreen and its transfer to widescreen SD is superb. The picture is smooth and clear, with rich color, finely etched definition, and excellent contrast. The Danish orchestra, unlike most others these days, eschews risers and is set up flat on the stage. The handsome pipes of an organ form the background. The Danish players are unusually photogenic; I especially enjoyed watching the principal oboe player, a man who takes obvious delight in making music. The brass instruments are polished to such a shine that you can see interesting reflections on their surfaces. The dueling left-right timpani in the Fourth Symphony are shot in a way that creates greater understanding of their battle. The camera always seems to be where it is needed.

The sound is offered in Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS 5.1. Both have excellent dynamic range and front-stage stereo separation. There is a third disc that contains an excellent 59-minute documentary, The Light and the Darkness, which tells Nielsen’s story. It will also be of interest to fans of Leonard Bernstein, as there is a lengthy black-and-white clip of him conducting the Third Symphony. In addition, there is a 62-page booklet that discusses Nielsen and each symphony in detail, providing two pages of music examples.

This all makes for a definitive classical DVD music set. Nieslen’s music certainly deserves such care.