SVENDSEN:  Symphony No. 1 in D, Op. 4.  Symphony No. 2 in B Flat, Op. 15. Polonaise, Op. 28.
Danish National Radio Symphony Orch/Thomas Dausgaard, cond.

CHANDOS CD 9932 (F) (DDD) TT: 75:25
Webmeister Benson kindly lent me Mariss Jansons' Oslo Philharmonic performances of these post-Gade, pre-Nielsen, Norwegian-Danish symphonies, currently out-of-print (EMI 49769). If the music appeals, look for it! Chandos' Y2K version from the Dansk Radiohuset at Copenhagen appends a D-major Polonaise, Op. 28, but it can't begin to swing the pendulum. The Danish NRSO has been playing this music since its founding in 1925, which is not to say in its sleep—to do so would require more melodic substance than Svendsen (1840-1911) ever summoned. But the orchestra can, as it does here, play more by rote than by conviction.

As Jansons underlined in Oslo to the north-northeast, Chandos' problem is conductor Thomas Dausgaard. Since Herbert Blomstedt's departure in 1977 (after 10 years as chief conductor), the DNRSO has experienced a period of turnovers:  Gennady Roshdestvensky, Giuseppe Sinopoli, Leif Segerstam who stayed longest, from 1988 to 1995), Ulf Schirmer, and since last year Gerd Albrecht. Yuri Temirkanov remains a Principal Guest, but the other p-g, Michael Schønwandt, was succeeded (replaced?) in January 2001 by Dausgaard, Ozawa's assistant at Boston for two seasons (1993-95). His one real success here is the charmingly off-beat scherzo of Symphony No. 1, written when Svendsen was 25. But the other three movements chug along when they don't plod, with one foot stolidly in front of the other.

The Second Symphony came 10 years later without revealing any more creative individuality. The Festival Polonaise (No. 2) was written in 1881 but never published. Svendsen's angry wife burned the manuscript of a Third Symphony ca. 1883, the year he was persuaded to head the Danish Royal Opera. Instead of recomposing the piece, Svendsen became a full-time conductor to the end of his days and evidently a good one.

As a contemporary of Grieg and Gade, his music suggested no influences beyond the Leipzig Conservatory's strict rules of form and harmonic structure, despite the annotator's attribution of Wagner and Berlioz. Nor did he in turn influence younger composers; Carl Nielsen admired him but went his own way, to the belated glory of Danish music.

This "20-bit" recording sounds shallower than Chandos has given us in past from Copenhagen; I was tempted to blame Svendsen until I listened to Jansons and the Oslo Phil, recorded in 1987 by producer David R. Murray. Checking Chandos' credits, I found that Chris Hazell rather than Brian Couzins was the producer, make of that what you will.

R.D. (Aug. 2001)