Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 1.
Opp. 52/1-2, 4-6, 8-9, 11; Op. 65/9.
Nos. 1, 3, and 10
Thomas Dausgaard, cond; Swedish CO
BIS 1756 (SACD: 64:34)
This is not the same Dausgaard Brahms First reviewed by Robert Markow in 36:2. That performance with a different orchestra, the Danish National Symphony, was on a Unitel Classica Blu-ray disc. Markow found
nothing about Dausgaard’s reading of the Brahms symphony to his liking. About this reading of the conductor’s Brahms First I find everything to my liking. For starters, I don’t know exactly how many members make up the Swedish Chamber Orchestra—from a not terribly focused photograph on the ensemble’s website, it looks to be between 45 and 50—but the impact it makes on this recording is certainly not that of some enfeebled one-to-a-part band. In fact, I’d defy anyone listening to this to claim that the orchestra sounds any smaller than a normal-sized modern philharmonic. Besides, as we know, Brahms’s symphonies were well received in performances by the 49-member Meiningen Court Orchestra in the composer’s lifetime, though he personally preferred beefed up string sections.
Second, Dausgaard breaks the pattern of ever slowing, enervating readings of Brahms’s orchestral works. Dausgaard’s tempos approach Weingartner’s in swiftness (see my review in 35:1), gathering much the same forward momentum and almost terrifying intensity of turbulence in the score’s first movement. Third, Dausagaard observes the first movement’s exposition repeat, which shamefully, some recently recorded versions by other conductors do not. Fourth, Dausgaard manages masterfully the tricky transition between the opening
Un poco sostenuto
. His quickened pace for the introduction—not too fast, but fast enough to lead naturally into the
, throbs with the pounding heartbeat of the timpani and bristles with hair-raising dread at the mournful intoning of the oboe’s solo. Fifth, BIS’s SACD recording is a marvel in itself with creamy top and deep, resonant bass.
If Dausgaard’s selection of
seems arbitrary or random, it’s not. He limits his choices specifically to the nine numbers which Brahms himself orchestrated. A note indicates that they are here edited for performance by Wilhelm Weismann. Likewise, Dausgaard rounds off his program with only the three of Brahms’s
that the composer orchestrated himself. The lightweight
make for a pleasant sequence of encores, but I’d have preferred a more substantive makeweight, like one of the overtures or the “Haydn” Variations. My guess is that this is the beginning of a new Brahms symphony cycle, and that in future releases Dausgaard will give us the companion orchestral works. Meanwhile, the symphony is the main order of business on the present disc, and it’s very strongly recommended for one of the best Brahms Firsts out of several to come my way in recent months.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 1 in C minor, Op. 68 by Johannes Brahms
Swedish Chamber Orchestra
Written: 1855-1876; Austria
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