Schubert: Symphonies 3, 4 & 5 - Dausgaard
Classical - Orchestral
Schubert: Symphonies 3-5
Swedish Chamber Orchestra
Thomas Dausgaard (conductor)
Working their way backwards through the symphonic output of Franz Schubert, Thomas Dausgaard and his Swedish Chamber Orchestra have now reached Symphonies Nos 3, 4 and 5. The team’s accounts of the ‘Unfinished’ and ‘Great C major’ made critics sit up and take notice: ‘a consistently refreshing view of both masterpieces’ was the verdict of the reviewer in Gramophone, whose colleague in Daily Telegraph compared the result to ‘having a layer of varnish removed from a much-loved painting’.
That disc was followed by a Sixth which ‘does away with many clichés of interpretation aimed at lending the work an inappropriate late-beethovenian heaviness’ (klassik.com), coupled with the orchestral movements of the music to ‘Rosamunde’ in ‘a tremendously transparent, clear and precise interpretation’ (Pizzicato). The three symphonies that Dausgaard and the orchestra now offer us were all composed before Schubert had turned twenty, mainly for the use of student or private orchestras.
They nevertheless demonstrate their composer’s astonishing command of the orchestral medium, and although influences from Haydn and Mozart are clearly discernible, the young Schubert exhibits a striking independence in his approach to this the most prestigious of all genres. Schubert himself doesn’t seem to have taken much interest in the works after having composed them, however, not even mentioning them to prospective publishers.
This possibly influenced Brahms when he was co-editor of the first critical edition of Schubert's works and advised against the publication of these early symphonies, regarding them as nothing more than preliminary stops on the way to the late masterworks. But that was at a time (the late 1800s) when Schubert’s genius was not yet widely recognized – today it is hard to imagine being without the irrepressible tarantella-finale of the Third Symphony, the dramatic tension of the opening of the ‘Tragic’ No. 4, or the Mozartian minuet of the Fifth.
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Recorded in May 2009 (Symphony No. 5), in January 2010 (Symphony No. 3), in May 2010 and in August 2011 (Symphony No. 4) at the Örebro Concert Hall, Sweden, 24/44.1
Produced by Hans Kipfer
Sound engineer: Bastian Schick
Equipment: Neumann microphones; RME Micstasy microphone preamplifier and high resolution A/D converter; MADI optical cabling; Yamaha 02R96 digital mixer; Sequoia Workstation; Pyramix DSD Workstation; B&W Nautilus 802 loudspeakers; STAX headphones
Post-production: Editing: Christian Starke, Elisabeth Kemper
Mixing: Hans Kipfer
Executive producer: Robert Suff
Review by Mark Novak - October 21, 2014
We have become accustomed to hearing the great works of the classical and early romantic eras performed by orchestras with 90+ members. The aggressive onset of the historical performance movement in the 19070’s and 1980’s began to change that and so now we are spoiled for choice when it comes to performances of these masterworks – one can choose the big orchestra, modern instrument version or the small orchestra, period instrument version. I did explore the period performance idiom for a while but it wasn't long before I got tired of the sounds of those old instruments (and the “historical” techniques used to play them). Compared to modern instruments, they just lacked tonal beauty. Yes, I confess, I am a toneist. There – I said it. Now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s turn to the release at hand.
One of the things I appreciate about BIS’s “Opening Doors” series of recordings from the Swedish Chamber Orchestra is we get to experience some of these masterpieces in a chamber orchestra setting but with modern instruments played in modern style. It’s a cross, if you will, between the HIP with current playing styles. Take, for example, the Schubert symphonies on offer here. Sym 3 was originally scored for two each of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and trumpets along with timpani and strings. Which means that an orchestra the size of the Swedish Chamber (38 regular members) would be just right to perform it in a way that honors the composer’s scoring and Dausgaard and his band sure deliver the goods! These are lively performances that make the most of the joyous nature of the music (where appropriate) and never fail to deliver drama when asked for in the score. One can hear and appreciate the wind and brass contributions to a greater extent with the smaller string compliment where these parts can be overshadowed by the strings in modern orchestra performances.
One apt comparison is between Dausgaard’s Schubert 3 versus Nott’s with the Bamberger Symphony (a modern sized orchestra also on SACD Schubert: Symphonies 1, 3 & 7 (8) - Nott). I happen to like Nott’s performance and recording but I think this BIS SACD is to be marginally preferred both for performance and recorded sound. Nott’s performance is one and a half minutes longer, most of which comes in the first movement where Nott adopts a more serious and measured pace for the opening Adagio maestoso. Otherwise, the performances are quite similar. Sonically, the Nott has that big orchestra feel with plenty of hall ambiance and a big sound while Dausgaard’s chamber orchestra sounds more intimate. Orchestral detail is more apparent in the BIS recording as one might expect from the smaller forces used. However, I would not say that the Swedish Chamber Orchestra sounds small – on the contrary they make a big sound considering the forces involved.
The performance of Sym 5 (which, along with numbers 8 and 9 are Schubert’s greatest symphonic hits) is exuberant. No dawdling here – just joyous music making. The scoring for Sym 5 is reduced, with no clarinets, trumpets or timpani. Dausgaard and orchestra make the most of this gorgeous music. Schubert himself gave the name “tragic” to his C minor Sym 4 though it in no way evokes the weight and seriousness of Beethoven’s great C minor 5th symphony. Schubert apparently lacked a true pathos gene. Interestingly, both the Sym 3 and Sym 4 begin with an orchestral minor chord – D minor for the former and C minor for the latter. Go ahead – I dare you. Cue the beginnings of both symphonies up and see for yourself. The difference is that Sym 3 quickly reverts to the major while Sym 4 remains in the minor. Great music, fun to listen to in such good performances and sound.
This SACD, which contains 81 minutes of music, was engineered by Bastian Schick in the Swedish Chamber Orchestra’s home concert hall in Orebro, Sweden. It is a 24 bit/44.1 kHz native master. The sound (stereo SACD layers) is simply splendid! Recommended!
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