Symphony No.6 in B minor, Op.74 (Pathétique)
Romeo and Juliet – Fantasy Overture
Swedish Chamber Orchestra
Recorded September 2011 in Örebro Concert Hall, Sweden
CD No: BIS-SACD-1959 Duration: 62 minutes Reviewed: February 2013
Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Thomas Dausgaard – Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique Symphony & Romeo and Juliet [BIS]
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
Continuing the Swedish Chamber Orchestra and Thomas Dausgaard “Opening Doors” series for BIS that is devoted to “romantic symphonic music”, if it takes a while to adjust to the lean textures and the undeviating rendition then there is much to attract and be illuminated by, not least the clarity of detailing that distils how motifs in the ‘Pathétique’ Symphony are passed around the orchestra and interacted.
And if that sounds dry, then there is plenty of fervour and thrills on offer, every man and woman of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra giving their all, the players’ attack bristling with excitement and mounting fiery surges when required. Attention to articulation, inflection and dynamics is fastidious without becoming an end in itself; and Dausgaard creates varied emotions without force, binding the movements together with on-the-move tempos; unsentimental, yes, but not insensitive. Indeed, this is a vivid and potent account, very successful in the first movement, if rather frivolous in the second-movement waltz, with little darkness in the middle section and followed by a march that is swift and pugnacious but slightly undone by the lack of emphatic weight, a lively, unrestrained and optimistic reading that overlooks the possibility that Tchaikovsky was looking over his shoulder, as suggested by Bernstein (DG), Celibidache (EMI) and Mikko Franck (Ondine). In the slow and lamenting finale Dausgaard goes for contrasts, even dance-like at times (!), but there is an excellent doom-laden gong stroke and the closing heart-beats are very much alive.
Some may feel that Dausgaard has sold the soul of this symphony – not to the Devil but to an artistic ideal that doesn’t always sit squarely with the gravitas and power of this work. The first movement is mostly convincing, the remaining ones less so to various degrees. Nevertheless, it’s a reading and a viewpoint that extends appreciation of the music’s possibilities. It’s a version to keep and return to.
If the opening of Romeo and Juliet is a little unceremonious (a second and third playing suggests otherwise), many beauties of distinctive sound enliven the air, some ‘authentically’ tilted, not least the suggestion of moonlight, and with the antiphonal violins coming into their own in the duel scenes. This is a terrific performance, vibrant and vigorous, tangibly involving and exhilarating; the polar opposite to Celibidache’s astonishing Munich account (EMI), ten minutes shorter for one thing, but just as convincing and compelling. It may be the fill-up, but this is a wonderful masterpiece that Dausgaard and his superb musicians do proud, often with ferocious attack incident and melting allure – in fact making it the main feature – complemented by equally outstanding recorded sound.