Prescott Cunningham Moore | 10/01/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This installment is less successful than the first volume, partially because the quality of the music itself is less refined than the Third and Fourth symphonies. The Second especially can sound somewhat diffuse and rambling while the false recapitulation in the First's allegro makes the recapitulation proper sound somewhat anti-climatic. Still, conductors like Sixten Ehrling and Herbert Blomstedt have instilled vigor and energy into these works, bring coherence to these somewhat disparate works.
Dausgaard is almost there, but he struggles in the Second to bring order to Berwald's universe. Stronger rhythmic emphasis and a clearer bass line would have added needed weight to the first theme group as well as to the Mendelssohnian development. However, Dausgaard's treatment of the playful, elfish second theme is delightful and the coda is equally fine. The rambling finale is very well played, but Dausgaard's somewhat direct approach makes this repeatitive music outsay its welcome, even if the coda hangs fine and the wind and brass work throughout blazes from the speakers. Dausgaard is best where the music is finest, in the stunning second movement. So fine is Dausgaard and his Danish players that you wish the music lasted longer. The tempo is natural, but flowing, which allows the vivacious central section to have an appropriate bite while preventing the tension to sag during the many pregnant pauses.
The First goes more smoothy, if only because it is a better work. Dausgaard shapes up a lovely first movement which, while lacking that last ounce of brio, seemingly overflows with color and an apt sense of fantasy. The winds deserve special mention for their fine ensemble work at the beginning of the development. The scherzo is quite fine as well, with a really sparkling trio. The finale is really something which, in of itself, is a dazzling piece of early romantic orchestration. And Dausgaard really reveals in the beautiful string writing, the charming wind parts, and the big brass outbursts. The development is splendid but the coda could be more incisive, even if the final trombone line is played as soaringly as anyone could ask. The highlight of this performance, like in the second, if the beautiful second movement, which unfolds quite naturally but sounds grand and imposing. The central minor section is sparkling played, especially the deliciously colorful plucked strings.
That being said, neither Dausgaard's First nor his Second rises to the level of Sixteen Ehrling in these works. And Herbert Blomstedt's San Francisco First is preferable to Dausgaard's approach as well. Where the Danish players struggle in the scherzo, the San Francisco Symphony articulates with ease. The outer movements feature more involved playing and more convincing interpretations. Dausgaard's thrilling brass work in the finale is certainly appealing at first; however, over repeated hearings, Blomstedt's steadier hand and clearer emphasis on structure stands in a rightful position as a reference reading of this symphony.
This is not to say that these performances are not quite enjoyable. Certainly those unfamiliar with Berwald will enjoy these releases. However, the competition in this music is surprisingly fierce and, with some work, listeners can find recording that offer that much more. Still, quite wonderful and recommend with the aforementioned reservations."