Brahms: Symphony No. 3 - Dausgaard

Brahms: Symphony No. 3 - Dausgaard

BIS  BIS-2319

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral

Brahms: Symphony No. 3, Alto Rhapsody, Hungarian Dances 11-16 (orch. Dausgaard), 6 Schubert Songs (orch. Brahms)

Anna Larsson (alto)
Johan Reuter (baritone)
Male voices of the Swedish Radio Choir
Swedish Chamber Orchestra
Thomas Dausgaard (conductor)

Thomas Dausgaard, this enormously talented conductor, continues his quest for recording the mainstream symphonic repertoire with an orchestra, smaller than the usual today. It has become a considerable success. What one possibly misses in string sound "thickness" is more than well compensated for by the added transparency, the almost chamber-music-type listening by the orchestral members. As a matter of fact, Dausgaard's and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra's togetherness, ensemble playing is totally amazing and gives this listener a completely different view of these Brahmsian masterpieces. Add Anna Larsson – Abbado's favourite alto –, Johan Reuter, and the Swedish Radio Choir, and what you get is a very, very strong team indeed.

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PCM recording

Recorded in November 2016 (Symphony, Songs, Alto Rhapsody) and in March 2017 (Hungarian Dances) at the Örebro Concert Hall, Sweden, 24/96

Producer: Ingo Petry (Take5 Music Production)

Sound engineer: Fabian Frank (Arcantus Musikproduktion)

Equipment: BIS’s recording teams use microphones from Neumann, DPA and Schoeps, audio electronics from RME, Lake People and DirectOut, MADI optical cabling technology, monitoring equipment from B&W, STAX and Sennheiser, and Sequoia and Pyramix digital audio workstations.

Post-production: Editing and mixing: Ingo Petry

Executive producer: Ingo Petry
Reviews (1)

Review by John Miller - December 29, 2018

Two Nordic SACD versions of Brahms's Symphony No. 3 have appeared recently, each doing the composer's complete cycle of four. Alba (Finland) produced one by Leif Segerstam, currently chief conductor of the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra; the Alba disc includes one of Segerstam's version of his own symphonies (review on HRAudio by John Miller - October 12, 2018).

BIS (Sweden) adds another Brahms 3 to their cycle with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra (SCO), conducted by Thomas Dausgaard. As with the previous Brahms in the BIS cycle, each disc holds a number of shorter pieces by the composer. For Dausgaard's Symphony 3, the extra programme is Six Schubert Songs (Dausgaard's arrangement of some of Schubert's Songs), 11-16 Brahms's Hungarian Dances which are also orchestrated by Dausgaard, and the Alto Rhapsody, with a soprano and chorus. This is a very attractive and enjoyable programme, played in the enhancing Örebro Concert Hall.

In 1880-1885, Brahm's focus on orchestral compositions (especially the Third Symphony) was encouraged by having at his disposal the excellent orchestra of the ducal Court of Saxe-Meiningen, after Hans von Bülow became its director. Adjustments to the scoring seen in the MS of the 3rd Symphony show Brahms's fascination with orchestration in a work greatly admired for its timbral colour, inspired by the River Rhine rural areas. Two-piano scores were notated by Brahms with numerous phrasing and nuance marks not to be found in the orchestral scores. As well as incorporating these into his new recordings, Dausgaard sought to weed out many traditional performance practices which ignore the scores, such as slowing down drastically at certain places. As Brahms himself said, commenting on such distortions of his scores, "If I had wanted it, I would have written it".

Another feature of these performances is the size of the orchestra; not a major problem for Brahms himself, who premièred the symphonies with orchestras of 50 players (Detmold) to twice that (the VPO). However, the even larger forces of orchestras based in International capitals have a much larger complement of strings, with deleterious effect on the balance of the woodwind. Brahms expected for a severely classical orchestra, with woodwind only in pairs. For large orchestras, some conductors have been known to double or even triple the winds, in an effort to balance them with the strings, but making the sound thicker and more weighty as a result.

The SCO has an ensemble of 39 regular members (sometimes, a few more), and there is another Swedish orchestra, the excellent Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra (Swedish, not the "Hel" Danish Helsingborg or Elsinore), where in the orchestral complement plays in a moderate 61, and this brings about a clarity and transparency which gives the lie to the legends that Brahms was a poor orchestrator, making textures thick and stodgy. The Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra is seated in the typical Germanic plan of the mid-1800s with the basses at centre rear and first violins left, seconds to right; similar close to the layout SCO. This makes for some very clear and engaging badinage between the two sets of violins. In all, Dausgaard's is a Brahms Cycle which excels in clarity of structure, clarity of textures, conveyance of emotion and fertility of invention, and the tonal structure of his entire work is based on Symphony 3's Classical key scheme, invested in the whole.

Symphony Three is the smallest movement of the four in the cycle, an echo of the exuberant opening echoes of Robert Schumann's own Third Symphony, the Rhenish, (Brahms was inspired by Schumann through his relationship with Clara). Dausgaard and the orchestra burst into an exuberant opening for the First, obeying Brahms 'Allegro con brio' to the best. The anti-heroic stance quickly sees the second theme; the grand dissipate and a melodic blossoming takes over, dance-like, with each instrument showing clarity and emotion. Informations are tranquil sublimation of folk song, the clarinet and bassoon rich and beautifully intertwining. With a similar entry of 'Allegro con brio', where the cellos are strong, a surprise is unexpected; the pastoral second is invigorated, then ardent brass-build-up follows with more restrained, veiled over the double bass which pluck downwardly into a rich darkness as the first movie comes to end.

With its prominent wind scoring, this Second movement has not the usual deep emotions, nor in death, but a tranquil sublimation of folk song. 'Allegro non troppo' is like chant, and Brahms retains placidity of mood, and colouring, using the same for each lovely wind instrument - clarinet and bassoon, then violins. This is quite delightful with the Sweden instruments.

Third movement is 'Poco Allegretto' - don't expect an scherzo; an eternal calm opens the music, a cello aspires for the infinite, with seeming ever-new extensions. The contrasting Presto section is splendidly spirited, the dialogue between the woodwinds and strings chattering busily away. Once again, the clarity of the Swedish instruments is a pleasure.

The fourth movement 'Allegro' is not like the rejoicing of Beethoven finales (which had become the norm in the C19th). Starting quietly at first by steps of dark instruments, the SCO is soon building up as if a full orchestra, SCO giving it their all, rejoicing in thrusting sforzandi. The exciting rush becomes more buoyant with jerky tunes, where there are smashes in which Dausgaard urges the orchestra onto an exhilarating climax, while the muscular chords and fanfare of the coda begins to wind the music down to its radiant close. Dausgaard does these closing minutes very well, as a transcendent coda reflecting at the end, with an ethereal cadence.

Next section: illustrates quite rare orchestrations of six Schubert songs, with Anna Larsson and Johan Reuter as strong vocal soloists. Dausgaard reflects his admiration for Schubert, indeed he was co-editor of the Complete Schubert Edition. The singers are able to evoke many emotions, such as strong and male, gentle, luminous, almost whispering and rich, stately man. Dausgaard's conducting has luminous texturing around this.

As on previous discs, Dausgaard has included a set of the much loved Hungarian Dances, in his own orchestrations. This is an opportunity to exploit the winning idiomatic of the light-hearted Hungarians with marvellous rhythms and plenty of humour! Dancing too.

The final and most magnificent piece is one of Brahms’s most personal works (and mine); the Alto Rhapsody that he composed after having learned that Robert Schumann’s daughter Julie, with whom he was secretly in love, had become engaged to another man. For this work, Anna Larsson and the orchestra are joined by the male voices of the celebrated Swedish Radio Choir. Darkly burnished and truly memorial.

BIS sound engineer (Fabrian Frank) and Recording producer (Ingo Petry) give a multichannel experience which captures the DSD music as if it lives and breaths in the warmly reverberant space of the Örebro Concert Hall. FLAC 24-bit Stereo, FLAC 24-bit, Surround 5.0 with FLAC 16-bit Stereo and MP3 Stereo are available.

Especially if you are collecting the BIS Dausgaard for Brahms set of 4 Symphonies (one left), I am happy to recommend the marvellous work from the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, playing together with their conductor. Remember that they make music which is composed and plays in Brahms own music - different from modern ways.


Copyright © 2018 John Miller and


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Comments (3)

Comment by Stephen Wright - January 4, 2019 (1 of 3)

Two corrections: Brahms co-edited the Schubert Edition and orchestrated these six Schubert songs, not Dausgaard. See BIS's online PDF.

Have you heard Christian Elsner take on some of these same songs for Pentatone? Utterly outclasses this rather coarse baritone, I think.

Comment by John Miller - January 7, 2019 (2 of 3)

Hi Stephen,
"Brahms co-edited the Schubert Edition and orchestrated these six Schubert songs" - yes, but that was followed by the first co-editor of the second Complete Schubert Edition (November 19, 1963, Schubert's one-hundred-thirty-fifth birthday). Dausgaard works in the Complete Schubert II.

As to the baritone, I thought it very good for the nature of the songs. Have not heard Christian Elsner in that song, but fine if it was better than to Reuter. Of course, we all have our different brains, mouths and HIFIs making a lot of different results of happiness!

Thank you.

Comment by SACD-MAN (threerandot) - April 12, 2019 (3 of 3)

As for the Brahms Symphonies in modern recordings on SACD, I seem to sense that interpretations in recent years have gone towards the historically informed practices. I am a little skittish about purchasing those, as I grew up on a more traditional "big band" style Brahms. I love the heroic symphony 3 recordings of Karajan and so on. Do the modern versions simply abandon this altogether or do they also revel in that sort of Brahmsian lushness?