Symphony No.2 in C minor [1877 version; edited by Leopold Nowak]
Swedish Chamber Orchestra
Recorded January 2009 in Örebro Concert Hall, Sweden
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: March 2011
CD No: BIS SACD1829
Duration: 62 minutes
This marvellous performance of Bruckner’s Second Symphony (a Cinderella of his output) benefits from being played by the smaller forces of the Swedish Chamber Orchestra. Not that there isn’t a lack of force and volume when required, but what stands out is the translucence of the sound and the amount of detail that is revealed, not least in the woodwinds, the Swedish CO players producing attractively rustic timbres. Furthermore, Thomas Dausgaard is a very sympathetic Brucknerian, moulding this music with intensity and identification and really making something expressive out of decoration and repetition; and also merging the hymnal passage that comes across as “Oh come, all ye faithful”.
This is a rich performance, perfectly paced, the first movement unfolded grandly and with a sense of direction. The slow Andante is sombrely beautiful – yet with a ‘walking’ pace that reflects the tempo marking – but openly textured and sensitively coloured rather than swamped in the cholesterol of full and blanketing strings. The intimacies and emotional outbursts of the movement are beautifully delivered and balanced – helped by Dausgaard using antiphonal violins (double basses on the left) and his ear for meaningful clarity. Not that we quite get Leopold Nowak’s edition of the 1877 version, for Dausgaard opens up some of the passages that Robert Haas includes in his editing and which Nowak puts in parameters with the advice that they might also be played. Furthermore, Nowak’s solo clarinet at the close of the slow movement is in fact played on the horn that appears in Haas’s score!
These editorial conundrums aside (and which are of course such a feature of Bruckner’s music), the scherzo is deliberately paced, lucid and wiry, yet with an inner propulsion that keeps it alive and also makes for the most natural relationship with the trio, nicely ethereal here, the movement closing with a fine blaze of sound launched by crisp and hard-hitting timpani. (Repeats are at a minimum, returning us to Nowak’s score.) The huge finale (nearly as long as the opening movement) is again well-paced, a mix of fiery jubilation and wayside reflection melded as one and sustained by Dausgaard knowing exactly where the symphony’s nodal points are.
All in all, this is a very impressive, revealing and persuasive performance of a symphony that needs exactly the penetrating advocacy that Thomas Dausgaard and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra bring to it, complemented by a vivid recording, its top priority being naturalness of perspective and balance.