Swedish Chamber Orchestra

Symphony in G minor ‘Zwickau’ [incomplete]
Les nuits d’été, Op.7
A Freak in Burbank [UK premiere]
Symphony No.2 in C, Op.61

Nina Stemme (soprano)

Swedish Chamber Orchestra, Örebro
Thomas Dausgaard

Reviewed by: Alexander Campbell

Reviewed: 23 August, 2010
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Thomas Dausgaard. Photograph: Marianne GrondhalThe Royal Albert Hall can sometimes be an unforgiving venue for a chamber orchestra, the tone thin, the sound underpowered. This performance by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra showed that this need not be the case. In his second appearance at the 2010 Proms Thomas Dausgaard here presented another intriguing programme sandwiching Berlioz’s “Les nuits d’été” and a contemporary piece in between Schumann symphonic works. Strange programming, maybe, but each of the pieces has a melancholy that knitted them together. All have moments of exuberance and quirkiness too and these were brought to vivid and energetic life by Dausgaard and his orchestra with rhythmic precision and fine control of dynamic and texture.

In the ‘Zwickau’ fragment, the composer’s decidedly romantic outlook was played by an orchestra with an essentially classical agenda. Its brevity was the only regret. The same was true of the Second Symphony in which Dausgaard made a very persuasive argument for the piece, bringing vitality and an almost frenetic and uncertain quality to the exuberant sections of the scherzo and made the trio passages moments of calm. The Adagio had all the necessary shade and seriousness, and in the finale the musical argument was cohesive, the playing notable for its delicacy. The encore was Sibelius’s Andante festive.

Delicacy was also characteristic of the orchestral contribution to the Berlioz, the composer’s characteristic and highly individual shimmering string-writing wonderfully evocative of the romantic scenes described in Gautier’s texts. The woodwind added some wonderfully sonorous textures. There was interest in hearing Swedish soprano Nina Stemme singing music outside her usual fach. Berlioz’s cycle has of course been sung by sopranos who, like Stemme, have Wagner and Strauss in their core repertoires – one thinks immediately of Crespin. Stemme’s voice, although it has a wonderfully rich core and middle register, is perhaps now too rounded and operatically dramatic for this particular music. There was a strong sense that she was trying to keep the amplitude in check, and she was not her usual communicative self – not helped by having to lean over to turn pages of her score. ‘Sur les lagunes’ and especially ‘L’île inconnue’ were more successful that the other songs. Essentially the problem was one of idiom – she did not sound entirely comfortable with the French texts, However, it is always interesting to see and hear a fine artist challenging themselves.

Albert Schnelzer’s A Freak in Burbank was hugely enjoyable. The composer says the forces and idea were modelled on Haydn, particularly his sense of playfulness and use of orchestra colours. The life of cinema director Tim Burton was another inspiration for the piece, and it was the almost film-score and programmatic quality of some of the music that was so likeable. There were interesting echoes of John Adams, too. The opening comprises an orchestral flourish which quickly loses momentum and dissipates, only to re-emerge. Thereafter there is very much a Haydnesque building of tension, music with a nervy and slightly unsettling quality despite the almost jazzily sprung rhythms. Schnelzer’s compositional voice seems both individual and assured.

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