Dausgaard’s Uninteresting Brahms Second

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 6

Sound Quality: 10

This latest installment in Thomas Dausgaard’s ongoing effort to downsize the romantic symphonic repertoire isn’t as bad as some of his previous releases, but it’s nothing special either. The performances are easily described, and just as easily dismissed. In the Second Symphony, Dausgaard takes the first movement unusually quickly, the slow movement more or less normally, creates insufficient contrast between the third movement’s two tempo areas, and presides over an erratically paced finale featuring a hectic coda in which speed doesn’t compensate for the lack of weight and emphasis.

Here and elsewhere, the smaller forces of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra mean that at pianissimo dynamic levels the thread of the musical argument disappears nearly entirely, along with its natural expressivity. Consider the melody at the opening of the second movement and the first movement’s second subject as telling examples. And why is it that the use of smaller forces means that tempos need to be quick, whether the music demands it or not? Is it a Pavlovian response? It’s a mannerism as predictable is it is boring.

The performance of the Haydn Variations is technically correct but so faceless that as soon as it’s over you will forget that you just listened to it. Dausgaard’s fleet and shallow account of the Academic Festival Overture denies it any of the grandeur or good-natured pomposity that Brahms wrote into it. Finally, Dausgaard’s orchestrations of Hungarian Dances Nos. 5-7 are both unstylish and amateurish, with random changes of often garish tone color every few bars. It couldn’t sound less like Brahms. The playing is excellent, the engineering superb, but it’s all in a lost cause.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Abbado (DG)

    Symphony No. 2; Haydn Variations; Academic Festival Overture; Hungarian Dances Nos. 5-7 (orch. Dausgaard)

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