April 2007

Schumann - Symphony No. 2 in C Major; Overture to ‘Scenes from Goethe’s Faust;’ Julius Caesar Overture; Symphony no. 4 in D Minor
Swedish Chamber Orchestra; Thomas Dausgaard, cond.
BIS 1519
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD
Released: 2007

by Rad Bennett

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

This recording hits like a breath of spring air inhaled after a bitter winter. These works are usually played by large symphony orchestras, but here are played by a chamber orchestra of 38 members. The resultant clarity brings a transparent radiance to this music that now seems sadly missing from many previously enjoyed versions. Robert Schumann is often criticized as a bad orchestrator, but conductor Thomas Dausgaard proves with this disc that the composer’s original intent was just fine. The woodwind solos shine through the small string body, and Dausgaard’s mercurial tempos are fleet without feeling rushed, every accent placed just right.

The slow movement of the Second Symphony is sublime, while the third and fourth movements of the Fourth Symphony are crisp and bracing. Dausgarrd makes a good case for the rare overtures too. The brass fanfares in the Julius Caesar Overture are very stirring. In fact, both overtures are far more memorable than before, thanks to these perfect readings.

The recording is not close up, yet it has excellent presence. It is as clear as the performance it presents. The stage depth is quite evident, and every balance is perfect. The recording sounds just fine in stereo, but the multichannel tracks add a bit more presence. It is good news to read in the notes that Dausgaard will do five discs with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, including the rest of the Schumann symphonies and the Schubert Ninth. These will be eagerly awaited.