Thomas Dausgaard is one of those conductors at work today that never really turns in a bad performance. Ok, his Schumann cycle for BIS was somewhat underwhelming , but his cycle of the complete symphonies of Langgaard was stunning and his Beethoven simply rocked. Here, Dausgaard turns his attention to the all-too-neglected Swedish master Franz Berwald, and while there are not too many Berwald cycles currently available, Dausgaard blows most out of the water, including Jarvi's, Bjorlin's, and Montgomery's cycles, and can stand proudly next to Sixten Ehrling as a keen and insightful interpreter of this quirky and bizarre early Romantic.
The best performance in this cycle is thankfully the Third, arguably Berwald's greatest work. If I had one complaint about this performance it would be that Dausgaard could elicit slightly more gnarl from the brass in the large tutti passages. That being said, the terraced build of the main theme in the first movement is about as fine as you will find on disc while the finale is a stunning romp through Berwald's idiomatic sound world. The babushka doll second movement, an adagio which houses a scherzo which, in turn, holds a tiny wisp of a trio, is stunning, the return of the adagio after the scherzo hauntingly effective.
The Fourth is scarcely less fine, Dausgaard shaping the magnificent slow movement lovingly. The first movement is quite well done as well, featuring some wonderful ensemble work in the development, charming wind chirps leading into the recapitulation. The scherzo is a tad slow for my taste, lacking the vigor you will find in Ehrling or in Markevitch's fabulous Berlin account, and the always problematic start-stop finale sometimes sags a bit, but it improves as it goes along and the coda is perfect, overflowing with Berliozesque oddities.
The Mendelssohnian Elfenspiel is charming, a wonderful filler that should be played more often.
All in all, I can easily forgive Dausgaard for his somewhat wanting Fourth Symphony Scherzo because these performance as so fine and the interpretations so solid that they really stand with Ehrling and modern reference editions. Additionally, the Danish National Radio Symphony Orchestra do themselves proud with pitch-perfect playing and some wonderfully idiomatic moments throughout. Any fan of either the composer or early romantic symphonic music should have no qualms about purchasing this wonderful release.