Dvořák 6 & 9

0 of 5 stars

Symphony No.6 in D, Op.60
Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op.95 (From the New World)

Swedish Chamber Orchestra
Thomas Dausgaard

Recorded April and May 2006 in the Örebro Concert Hall, Sweden

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: September 2007
CD No: BIS-SACD-1566
Duration: 82 minutes



It’s not often that these two symphonies are paired together; indeed this might be a first. Normally the playing-time of each work would conspire against such a coupling – as it is, even given the fleetness of these performances, this release’s timing crosses over the 80-minute mark. There is the matter of exposition repeats, though, about which more anon.

This is Dvořák played on a chamber orchestra; the superb Swedish Chamber Orchestra is of 38 musicians. If this half-size suggests emaciated music-making, think again. The gruff and gutsy bass line and the attack of the non-vibrato strings makes an immediately arresting beginning – vivid and potent – to the first movement of the great Sixth Symphony: music that remains in the shadows of Dvořák’s next (and last) three symphonies (not least the ubiquitous ‘New World’ of course), but which can be counted among his very finest achievements. The fire and interplay of the performance is compelling and although Thomas Dausgaard might be accused of being too consistently ‘fast’, rhythms are nonetheless well-sprung and the playing is brilliantly incisive, and there is room for beguiling lyricism and breathlessness is avoided. I regret that Dausgaard omits the repeat of the first-movement exposition – yes, it seems that the composer had second thoughts and crossed the lead-back bars through – but those conductors who override such knowledge and ‘obey’ the published score are surely right to do so. If, in this fizzing account, we arrive at the development too soon, then the movement as a whole is nevertheless securely ‘rounded’ and still manages to be (structurally) longer than the subsequent Adagio.

And so to the “Goin’ Home” or “Hovis” Largo, the second movement of the ‘New World’ Symphony (which was composed in New York). As might now be expected, Dausgaard allows shapely expression – there’s a lovely cor anglais solo from a non-credited player – but with a lyrical current that avoids sentimentality or mawkishness; the result is dignified, moving and beautifully hushed and reposed although Dausgaard is no stranger to making ripples.

The scherzo has real zest and excellent dovetailing (how well Dausgaard sets the ‘trio’ up and relishes its delightful lilt) and those strings (violins are antiphonal) really know about unanimity and incision – terrifically biting double basses, as throughout, as well as crisp timpani – but the whole orchestra is playing for one another and the brass never stands out in domination. The finale swings optimistically rather than portentously, an exuberance that can effectively be denied by powerful and quickening surges – but don’t expect the neurosis that Bernstein finds in his controversial if astonishing Israel Philharmonic account for DG. But Dausgaard is at the forefront when restoring the music to its ‘original’ glory.

The recording, while slightly too resonant (but which effectively buttresses the ‘reduced’ forces) even if the chamber orchestra is just a little too backwards within it – but these reservations are but small degrees – for there is evinced a warmth and clarity that perfectly complements these fresh-faced, eager and eminently musical versions that give much pleasure while avoiding well-trod ‘tradition’.

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