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Thomas Dausgaard

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Thomas Dausgaard reviews

Seattle Times (March 2010)
Dausgaard brings distinguished interpretation to Sibelius' Fifth with the Symphony

The Seattle Symphony played a program of Sibelius and Lutoslawski under the baton of Danish guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard.

By Bernard Jacobson

Special to The Seattle Times

Concert review |

Coming at the end of the evening, Sibelius' Symphony No. 5 cast a bright and somewhat unforgiving light on the other 20th-century symphony that had begun Thursday night's Seattle Symphony program. This was the fourth and last symphony by the Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994).

Lutoslawski's handling of the orchestra was assured to start with, and grew breathtakingly so over the years. Certainly the textures shone in the performance Danish guest conductor Thomas Dausgaard drew from the symphony. There were radiant and passionate string cantilenas, sinuous woodwind solos, incisive interventions by the brass, vehement percussion outbursts.

These elements are interwoven with consummate artifice. I say "artifice" rather than "artistry" because it is with the manner of their interweaving that I have problems. There is an element of contrivance about the whole enterprise. I cannot discern the logic in it. Or rather, there is certainly logic, but it is not a natural logic, and so in the end we are left with the impression of just one fascinating thing after another.

The structure of Sibelius' Fifth Symphony, by contrast, is utterly cogent. Every moment leads inexorably to the next, across the pauses between the three movements, in the kind of unbroken arc that is missing from the Lutoslawski. In Thursday's performance this effect was all the more remarkable given that Dausgaard's shaping of Sibelius' work seemed to aim at making it less monolithic than usual. He offered little nuances, little touches of fantasy, that illuminated the whole without undermining its strength of form.

At the same time, there were one or two oddities of rhythm — the little wind figures that gradually coalesce at the start of the first movement were phrased rather prosaically — and some balances that were, I will not say wrong, but idiosyncratic. It must have been frustrating for the flutes not to be allowed to sing their variation theme in the slow movement with a bit more eloquence.

Still, this was a distinguished interpretation, and the orchestra played splendidly all evening with notable contributions from clarinetist Laura DeLuca, from Scott Goff, David Gordon, and Ko-ichiro Yamamoto on flute, trumpet and trombone, and from the fine horn section led by Mark Robbins.

Inevitably, Rachmaninoff's flamboyant but shallow Piano Concerto No. 4 took a back seat in musical interest to the two symphonies. But in the front seat, soloist Arnaldo Cohen was his familiar polished, sensitive and technically adroit self.