Review: Thomas Dausgaard Should Be a Philharmonic Regular

Thomas Dausgaard, a busy conductor on the international scene, plugged a gap in his resume and, at 55, made his debut with the New York Philharmonic on Thursday. But he is not among the guest conductors recently announced for next season, which is unfortunate: He led an exceptionally urgent and insightful account of Schumann’s Second Symphony.

He may want to focus his attention on the thriving Seattle Symphony where, this fall, he steps up from principal guest conductor to music director, succeeding Ludovic Morlot. But I hope we’ll hear more of him in New York. He has a penchant for challenging players, partly though bold interpretive ideas, but also with his idiosyncratic conducting style.

With his lanky frame and sweeping arm gestures, Mr. Dausgaard often seemed almost to hover over the players. And there were places in the Schumann symphony, especially at the start of a section, in which the Philharmonic players were not quite in sync. Sometimes the flow of a passage took time to settle in.

Yet I was engrossed throughout. Mr. Dausgaard, who avoids going for big statements, conveyed the work’s subtle dramatic character and brought out striking details. This symphony can sometimes seem at odds with itself, with stretches in which Schumann tries to channel his wild imagination into majestic Beethovenian symphonic forms. A fantastical episode is run through with rigorous contrapuntal passages. But Mr. Dausgaard balanced all these elements.

The restrained opening of the first movement came across like a hybrid of a Bach chorale prelude — complete with a walking Baroque bass line — and a stirring Romantic fanfare. When, after a transitional passage played here with enticing ambiguity, the main Allegro section took off, the playing had both rhythmic spark and sly impetuosity.

The Scherzo zipped along with crisply dispatched passagework in the violins. Yet the performance also captured the slightly manic animation that drives the music. The expansive, glowing slow movement had lyrical grandeur without grandiosity. The restless finale came across like a spiraling and slightly dangerous dance.

Mr. Dausgaard opened the concert with a dark, mysterious account of Nielsen’s “Helios” Overture. And the program included the pianist Stephen Hough as soloist in a vibrant performance of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto. Mr. Hough’s playing was lucid, rich with colors and full of surprises. Some of those surprise turns seemed to catch Mr. Dausgaard off guard; Mr. Hough is not so easy to follow himself. But this just lent the performance a wonderful immediacy.

New York Philharmonic
This program continues through Saturday at David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center; 212-875-5656,

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