4 Symphonies - Brahms, Dvorak, Sibelius, Nielsen / Dausgaard, Danish National Symphony Orchestra

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4 SYMPHONIES • Thomas Dausgaard, cond; Danish Natl SO • C MAJOR 710508 (DVD: 168:00) Live: Copenhagen 2009 BRAHMS Symphony No. 1. DVO?ÁK Symphony No....

4 SYMPHONIES Thomas Dausgaard, cond; Danish Natl SO C MAJOR 710508 (DVD: 168:00) Live: Copenhagen 2009

BRAHMS Symphony No. 1. DVO?ÁK Symphony No. 9. SIBELIUS Symphony No. 5. NIELSEN Symphony No. 3

If, as I did, you were to begin your examination of this release with disc 1, track 1 (the Brahms symphony), you might well conclude that there was little need to continue. There is something rather too cool and casual about Dausgaard’s interpretation of this powerful music. It lacks inner tension. There is not enough contrast between ideas. Accents are in the wrong places. Short notes are cheated of their value. And that’s not all. The second movement just plods on, the third is charmless, the fourth frantic and lurches from one tempo change to the next. Listening to the complete symphony several times could not induce me to alter my initial unfavorable observations. Adding visual insult to aural injury, sight and sound are not synchronized, and the difference between the two is disturbing, to put it mildly.

But then came the Nielsen symphony. What a difference! Right from the opening moments it had all the vigor and élan and determination lacking in the Brahms. Rhythms were tight and crisp. The music bristled with enthusiasm and commitment. The finale positively beamed with Elgarian nobility and breadth, rising to an absolutely thrilling climax. What a joy! Nielsen’s Third had hitherto never been one of my favorite symphonies, but Dausgaard nearly made it so in this performance.

Does Dausgaard work his magic on the two remaining works as well? The answer, I’m glad to say, is yes. Furthermore, the synchronization problem that affected the Brahms symphony is only minimal in the Nielsen and nonexistent in Dvo?ák and Sibelius. The “New World” Symphony receives one of the finest performances I have heard. Dausgaard’s approach is no romantic wallow but rather a clean, purposeful traversal filled with taut rhythms, precise attacks and releases, glowing sound, and architectural strength. Dausgaard likewise makes a strong case for the Sibelius Fifth, never allowing momentum to sag, carefully propelling the music forward with masterly control. I am particularly impressed with the ease in which he handles the tempo change for the second part of the first movement. By the time the grand climax of the finale arrives, one feels a great journey has been completed.

All four performances were recorded live in Copenhagen’s Koncerthuset in 2009. The personnel changes from symphony to symphony, but both principal horns, both principal trumpets, and both timpanists are star players. Generally the woodwinds are excellent, but violins seem a bit thin for an orchestra that is otherwise so assured and well balanced. However, the basses make up for this deficiency with their huge, rich sound, heard at its best at the quiet endings of three of the Brahms movements and in some of the more powerful moments of the Dvo?ák symphony. Aside from the basses, the orchestra plays with a bright sound, textures are clear and clean, balances are well controlled.

The camerawork is devoted about 20 percent of the time to Dausgaard and his facial contortions, 10 percent to views of the full orchestra from afar, and 70 percent to the business of jerking the viewer’s eyes from one instrumental close-up to another—two seconds of a horn player’s embouchure, a second of flute keys, two notes from the timpani, etc. Who determined that this is what we want to see? I find it annoying to the point where I simply can’t bear to watch.

On ArkivMusic the price for these four symphonies is $27 ($40 for the Blu-ray version)—just under $7 a symphony, a good buy even without the inferior Brahms symphony, especially for performances as fine as the other three.

FANFARE: Robert Markow

Product Description:

  • Release Date: June 26, 2012

  • UPC: 814337011055

  • Catalog Number: 710508

  • Label: C Major

  • Number of Discs: 2

  • Composer: Antonín Dvořák, Carl Nielsen, Jean Sibelius, Johannes Brahms

  • Conductor: Thomas Dausgaard

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Danish National Symphony Orchestra

  • Performer: Dausgaard