The death of Bryden Thomson in November 1991 was a painful blow to music. He was 63. Undoubtedly one of the most able conductors of his time, he possessed many qualities which, because of his inherent modesty, may not be fully recognised. He always spoke of getting to know the music, which statement belied his evident understanding of it; he believed that he was the servant of the music never suggesting that he could add anything that was not already implicit. Indeed he was not concerned with his personal advancement - only to realise faithfully each composer's wishes. Into his conducting he brought his conviction that the correct tempo was the key to a worthy performance and this made for one of his greatest qualities, namely the ability to ensure the most perfect clarity of orchestral texture, a phenomenal gift that is rare to the point of uniqueness Among his other many splendid attributes was that he was probably the best orchestral accompanist Britain has ever produced. This was fostered by his conducting of the Royal Ballet on tour for 18 months in the early 1960s and his natural gift for identifying with other performers - part of the fundamental goodness of his character.
Born in Ayr in 1928, his interest in music did not really begin until he was about 15. At the Royal Scottish Academy of Music he won almost every prize. He furthered his studies in Hamburg and on his return to Scotland became deputy to Ian Whyte, conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Later, after a brief return to teaching, he was conductor to the Norwegian Opera and developed his interest in the Scandinavian repertoire. In 1966 he became associate conductor of the Scottish National Orchestra. Two years later he was appointed principal conductor of the BBC Northern Orchestra and the general opinion is that it was he who so built up the orchestra as to establish its claim to a new title, the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. Clearly under his five-year conductorship, the orchestra widened both its repertoire and abilities. From 1977 to 1985 he was music director of the Ulster Orchestra, then almost completely unknown. As with the orchestra in Manchester, he built up this body into the highly professional and universally recognised orchestra it now is. For a year he was with the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra and between 1984 and 1987 conducted the Radio Telefis Eirann Symphony Orchestra in Dublin. It is entirely due to 'Jack' Thomson that this orchestra too became such a magnificent group of players. He introduced to Dublin all the symphonies of Beethoven, Sibelius, Bruckner, Nielsen and Dvorák. He also performed works by Irish composers such as Gerard Victory, Aloys Fleischmann and James Wilson; when in Cardiff he had similarly given works by such composers as David Wynne, Alun Hoddinott and a memorable cycle of all twelve symphonies by Daniel Jones.
It is his legacy of recordings for Chandos which will enable people to value the work of this superlative conductor. He recorded all the Bax symphonies with the London Philharmonic, apart from No. 4 which he recorded with the Ulster Orchestra. With this now highly-polished Belfast orchestra he recorded the works of Hamilton Harty. With the LSO he recorded the nine symphonies of Vaughan Williams which have deservedly won critical acclaim. His Elgar recordings have caused Elgar-haters to listen with interest; his Walton performances are as good as one could ever expect.
Jack knew what he wanted from orchestras. This occasionally brought him into conflict with some individuals and administrators, earning him a reputation for being peppery. But all this was worth while, as can be measured by the results. His recordings of the Nielsen and Martinu symphonies have discovered a new world for so many, and that, in itself, is evidence of the debt of gratitude we all owe this devoted servant of music. His like may not be seen again.
(Text credit to David C F Wright from http://www.musicweb-international.com/thomson/index.htm)
On Nielsen's 4th Symphony ("Det Uudslukkelige", "The Inextinguishable"):
The Symphony No. 4, The Inextinguishable (Danish: Det Uudslukkelige), by Carl Nielsen, was completed in 1916. This symphony is among the most dramatic that Nielsen wrote, featuring a 'battle' between two sets of timpani.
The title Inextinguishable does not apply to the symphony itself, but rather 'that which is inextinguishable'. In his notes for the symphony, Nielsen refers the 'the elemental will to live" ('inextinguishable' is not an exact translation of uudslukkelige, which itself suggests the life-force). It is scored for 3 flutes, 3 oboes, 3 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, 2 sets of timpani, and strings.
It is in four movements played without breaks. The first movement begins with a fierce tutti pitting D minor against its flat seventh, C, in an almost antiphonal manner. After the tutti, the clarinets introduce in A major the lyrical theme that will culminate the work. The second movement, for woodwind in G major, is more an intermezzo than the expected adagio. This function is fulfilled by the third movement, which opens with a cantilena from unison violins, then builds to a climax before concluding with a single oboe playing over trills in the upper strings. The clashes of the first movement reappear in the final movement, in which two sets of timpani duel from either side of the orchestra. This passage unusually calls on the two timpanists to change the pitch of the timpani while playing. At the very end E major emerges as the key to conclude the work.
The most recorded of Nielsen's symphonies, No. 4 presents some unique problems to the interpreter. In his book Carl Nielsen: Symphonist, Robert Simpson devotes nearly a page to "features that can lead the exhibitionist conductor astray", mostly relating to matters of tempo.
(Text credit to wikiepdia)
On Nielsen's 6th Symphony:
The Symphony No. 6 by Carl Nielsen, written in 1925, is a work in four movements:
1. Tempo giusto
2. Humoreske: Allegretto
3. Proposta seria: Adagio
4. Tema con variazioni: Allegro
It was premiered later that year in Copenhagen with the composer conducting.
He gave it the title Sinfonia Semplice. According to Robert W. Simpson, from the second edition of his book on Nielsen (but not the first — this represents a revision of an earlier opinion) this work may be partially autobiographical; the composer had just experienced a tremendous success with his Fifth symphony, but had also suffered a series of heart attacks. He was to write several more works, some of them substantial, in the remaining six years of his life, including the Three Motets and Commotio for organ solo, but around this time the atmosphere of his works began to change somewhat.
As with many other works by Nielsen starting as early as his first symphony, this symphony uses "progressive tonality", not only starting in one key — G, here — and ending in another (B-flat) but making the change part of the drama of the work (this was one of the main theses of Simpson's book).
(Textual credit to wikiepdia)