New Releases Featuring Brahms, Dowland and Schumann

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This week's featured albums bring ardent Schumann by pianist Imogen Cooper, intense Brahms from the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, and a Renaissance sampler from Hamburger Ratsmusik.

Imogen Cooper, piano
Schumann: Fantasiestucke; Kreisleriana; Brahms: Theme And Variations

Available at

Known for her performances of German romantic repertoire, the English pianist Imogen Cooper now begins a Schumann cycle with this recording. The album features two early Schumann works: the Kreisleriana and the eight Fantasy Pieces, the latter written for a young English pianist for whom the composer had a brief flirtation (see an example below). Also on the album are a Theme and Variations, which Brahms arranged from his own String Sextet No. 1, for Schumann's widow Clara. While not a major piece, it features the same secure and expressive but never gushy playing Cooper brings to the rest of the album.

Come Again: John Dowland and his Contemporaries
Jan Kobow, tenor
Hamburger Ratsmusik, conductor
Available at

The Hamburger Ratsmusik, an ensemble that claims to trace its origins back to the 16th century (its modern history dates to 1991), surveys the rich musical landscape of the Elizabethan era. Featured here are sprightly numbers including the Galliard Battaglia by Samuel Scheidt and a Gaillarde by Michael Praetorius. The centerpiece figure is John Dowland, represented in a range of melancholic numbers including "Come Heavy Sleep" and "Flow my Tears." Although the recording's packaging has a dry, academic presentation, the performances are accomplished and well-researched.

Brahms: Symphony No. 1, Liebeslieder Waltzes, Hungarian Dances
Swedish Chamber Orchestra
Thomas Dausgaard, conductor
Available at

For those who missed the Swedish Chamber Orchestra during their recent U.S. tour (most of us, that is), this recording gives you a taste of their kinetic performance style. Led by the Danish conductor, Thomas Dausgaard, this ensemble is just about three dozen players in size, likely equivalent in number to those who played Brahms's First Symphony at its premiere in 1876, but far less than most modern performances. The benefit: textures are lighter, tempos charged and timbres more pronounced. To round out the album are the genial Liebeslieder-Walzer and exuberant performances of three of the Hungarian Dances.