I dig the music of Carl Nielsen. He is a bad-ass in about every way. Being a wind player myself, I love his wind writing in his symphonies, mostly because it is so insane: The 5th symphony is also a clarinet concertino, and every symphony has some nutty wind writing. This being said, I don’t know why it took me this long to check out his wind quintet, one of the standard pieces for that ensemble. Oh, and by the way it is a fucking masterpiece.
Nielsen has such a distinct sound. Sometimes when the melody hits that flat 7, which is often, you just know, it’s Carl. That is basically the first movement. The writing is so colorful, and the harmonies are so perfect. The first two bars could be by anyone, but once the bassoon hits that top note and starts going back down, it’s Nielsen all the way home. Not many people since early Beethoven have written a minuet as a movement as a larger work, that I can think of, but Nielsen was like, fuck it, lets have this absolutely charming little dance movement. I know no other Danish music, but this movement sounds like what Danish music should be.
As if the music wasn’t colorful enough, Carl had another of his, fuck it moments and had the mournful melody in the English horn. It starts with a shout from the dark, but transitions into a gorgeous hymn Nielsen had written earlier, which serves as the theme for the set of variations that will comprise most of the movement. I love Nielsen’s variation movements, mostly because they are so insane (See: Symphony 6). Plaintive horn, playful flute, some humor, vigorous march, dark humor, bassoon being it’s goofy self: what more can you ask for? Sometimes the theme gets so twisted you can barely recognize it. Nielsen is more interested in the music than sticking to the theme. If the music wants to go somewhere the theme doesn’t, so be it. He wrote it for a specific wind quintet and wanted to represent some of the players in the group. The clarinetist was bi-polar, so that may account for some of the clarinet freak out moments. He also wanted to write a concerto for each of the members, but he only got the clarinet, and flute concertos done before his death. God, a Nielsen horn, or bassoon concerto would be so damn awesome!!! But what we have is pretty cool, so I can’t complain. Oh, by the way, low A in the bassoon on the last note! Fuck right!!
This performance is mind-blowingly amazing. The Berlin Phil Wind Quintet is probably the best group of its kind in the world, which makes sense because the Berlin Phil might be the best group of its kind in the world. Listen and be transported!