The Compact Collection

This Week's Best CD Releases

Rob Cowan
Thursday 19 July 2001 00:00
Comments

Listening to Paavo Berglund's new Brahms symphony cycle with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe is like unexpectedly falling into an intimate relationship with someone you've long admired but don't know well. The public face softens and the voice takes on a new range of nuances. Others have also given us small-orchestra Brahms but Berglund gets closer than most to the music's heart, letting each symphony sing and follow its own course. He shows sensitivity to articulation, shading and dynamics, especially in the Third Symphony where, after the first movement's repeated exposition, the key shifts and the colour with it.

Freshly liberated detail is legion. When, did you last hear the horn's counterpoint to the clarinet at the start of the First's third movement or the pulsing accompaniments that underpin crucial passages in the Second and Third? Berglund respects the Fourth's architecture yet his method seems less to impose a view than to unfold an argument, gradually and sensitively. The playing is mostly wonderful, even though these are live recordings (Baden-Baden,, May 2000). It's rare nowadays to encounter performances that shed so much fresh light on familiar fare but without making a fetish of interpretative novelty.

You'll also learn a thing or two from a new DaCapo CD of music by the maverick Danish symphonist Rued Langgaard (1893-1952), a sort of Nordic Charles Ives whose stylistic instability fits our own age to perfection. Put on the Sixth Symphony, and after being lulled into a sense of modal simplicity, there's a wind change, a ringing of bells and an onrush of unrest. The music shifts from theme and transformation, through fugue, toccata, sonata and coda, all within 22 minutes. And Langgaard's Seventh Symphony, although less adventurous than the Sixth, is still pretty oddball.

Some years ago the Danacord label covered Langgaard's complete symphonies, but on this evidence DaCapo's new cycle with the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestraunder Thomas Dausgaard will set new standards. It's a real ear-opener, and the recordings are excellent.

Brahms Symphonies Nos. 1-4 Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Paavo Berglund Ondine ODE 990-2T (four discs)

Langgaard Symphonies Nos. 6-8 Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra and Choir/Thomas Dausgaard DaCapo 8.224180

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