Ludolf Nielsen has an original voice, rooted in folk idioms like the British pastoralists who were emerging in the same period, but by no means phlegmatic or unimaginative. His Third Symphony is bold, dramatic music, suffused with a spiritual atmosphere and aesthetic derived from Bruckner, though not dependent on his musical vocabulary. The work has an early 20th-century flavor, is deeply felt and expertly written, a worthy companion to Carl Nielsen's Third Symphony and Stenhammar's Second Symphony, two other works from about the same time (1911-13). The finale rises out of smoldering embers to a remarkable climax. By the time it's over you know you've just heard the genuine article -- not a suite, not tunes shoe-horned into academic sonata forms, not a collection of tone poems, but a symphony.
After this work and his extraordinary cantata The Tower of Babel, Nielsen fell silent for a time, stunned by the Great War's seeming mockery of spiritual ideals he and other contemporaries had been trying to follow and promulgate. The tone poem Hjortjolm was written after he recovered his urge to create following the war. It's a rich work in its own right, sounding as much at home in the early 1920s as the symphony does in the early 1910s.
The performances by the Bamberg SO under Frank Cramer are excellent, and Da Capo's engineering sounds marvelous on a good system.
If Ludolf Nielsen does not quite rise to the heights of Carl Nielsen in the latter's Fourth or Fifth Symphonies or to the level of Sibelius at his symphonic best, his orchestral music nevertheless bears the stamp of a richly gifted and serious artist with a journey to share -- perhaps a bit cheerier than CN or Sibelius and for me a worthy musical companion. I wouldn't want to be without the best works of Stenhammar, Sibelius, or either Nielsen. This disc has two of LN's best.