26 February 2016
If everyone approached an anniversary year like Carion and Odradek have here, our listening would be infinitely richer. The disc lines up Nielsen’s famous Wind Quintet against identically scored works by Danish composers who were noticeably and fascinatingly inﬂuenced by him. These are musicians almost entirely forgotten even in Denmark - provincial schoolteachers and organists, each with sound technical abilities and a receptive mind.
Kai Helmer Senstius’s Quintet was written for the same ensemble as Nielsen’s and opens with the same interval. Some of that composer’s distinct landscapes are heard in music with a hint of English pastoral; there are Nielsenite interjections but without his brazen nerve. Another Funen composer, Jens Laurson Emborg, seems more at ease with the abrupt and Carion adopt a suitably emphatic attitude. Those moments contrast neatly with Emborg’s drooping ‘Fughetta malincolia’ (titled à la Nielsen) but it’s back to perky gameplay in a ﬁnale with copious lurches towards repeated chords. Copenhagen critic Svend Simon Schultz’s Une amourette has a more louche, continental feel; the writing suddenly strikes you as more horizontally conceived than vertically.
And the Nielsen? Danacord’s recent release of the ‘original’ recording from four of the composer’s dedicatees underlined how approaches to this piece have changed; the Royal Danish Quintet were concerned little with blend and absolutely with Nielsen’s individual character portraits. Carion’s approach is as different as can be given the writing. Blend is exceptional and the sound, from the spacious acoustic of Copenhagen’s Christians Kirke, unusually resonant. That lack of intimacy can prove a shock - Emmanuel Pahud, Sabine Meyer and Co feel more like five individuals conversing in the dark under a low Poul Henningsen lampshade — but Carion conjure character vividly when they need to (Egīls Šēfers’s vision of Nielsen’s ‘choleric’ clarinetist Aage Oxenvad included). I can take or leave the slightly naff bonus DVD of the ensemble’s ‘choreographed’ performance, which sees them line up prayerfully for the hymn tune or square up confrontationally for irascible exchanges. If it helped induce the interpretative vision, then ﬁne. It’s not a vision I’m used to in this work — all the more reason for them to record it and for us to hear it.
Gramophone Andrew Mellor