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Swedish Chamber Orchestra at Strathmore

Piotr Anderszewski, pianist (photo by Sheila Rock)
Piotr Anderszewski, pianist (photo by Sheila Rock)
Created in 1995, the Swedish Chamber Orchestra has already recorded over 35 CDs. This busy ensemble, Sweden’s only full-time professional chamber ensemble, performed a strong program of Beethoven and Schumann at Strathmore Tuesday evening, sponsored by Washington Performing Arts Society. Their 38 players pack a laser-like punch, which was immediately evident in the striking opening chords of Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture. As part of the somewhat historically informed performance (HIP) ensemble, the hard timpani mallets gave a hearty ‘poing,’ while Music Director Thomas Dausgaard gave a good balance of specific cues and beatless general gestures (often with the shoulder) reminiscent of Andrew Manze (recently reviewed by Charles), with whom the ensemble regularly performs. No backs leaned against any chairs among either performers or audience.

Pianist Piotr Anderszewski joined the ensemble in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Unfortunately, the combination of a substandard instrument and unimaginative, technical playing with a banged-out cadenza limited the work’s success. The tense soloist refused to dance with the orchestra, his willing dance partner. The evening could have been an opportunity to invite a fortepianist such as Kristian Bezuidenhout to offer a unique experience with a more modestly sized piano.

Other Reviews:

Joe Banno, Swedish Chamber Orchestra (Washington Post, April 3)

Steve Smith, Take Beethoven, Instill Period Flavor, Heighten the Drama (New York Times, April 1)
Schumann’s Symphony No. 2 filled the second half of the program and allowed the strings to shine. Despite issues with the trumpets at the exposed opening, the ensemble’s sweeping energy was addictive, albeit sometimes undermined by balance issues. With only two double-basses, the ensemble at times sounded top-heavy, and the dominant violin sections occasionally covered the winds. Dausgaard elicited a superbly crafted extended crescendo in the third movement, and the period of tranquility in the second-movement scherzo was an incredible contrast to the clear, quick material beforehand. The Danish conductor magically released the final chord of the symphony with an upward gesture, similar in direction to the release of the string players, thus helping to further transport the orchestra’s bounteous sound. Plan for this compelling conductor's Baltimore Symphony performances this summer (June 12 to 15).

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