> Johannes Brahms - Serenades [CA]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johannes BRAHMS (1903-1895)
Serenade No.1 in D, Op.11
Serenade No.2 in A, Op.16
Liebeslieder Waltzes (selection from Opp.52 & 65)*
Ingrid Sieghart (soprano)
Singverein der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde Wien*
Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Gary Bertini
28-30 May 1982, Rosenhügel-Studio, Vienna
ORFEO C 008 102 A [2 CDs: 88’43"]


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These are thoroughly delightful performances of delightful repertoire. Gary Bertini (born 1927), one of those excellent conductors who doesn’t enjoy the attention he deserves, secures nimble and amiable playing from the VSO.

It sounds as if the string sections are reduced. This brings the woodwind into equality and gives lithe attack well suited to the youthful, would-be symphony that masquerades as the Op.11 Serenade. Bertini brings a just balance to the music’s symphonic import – first movement repeat observed – while the delicacy of timbral interplay reminds of Mendelssohn. It’s good to hear Brahms slimmed down; he was young once! Bertini doesn’t milk the music or make it too plush, something I think Kertesz does do to some extent in his much-admired Decca recordings. Personally, I’m very fond of Michael Tilson Thomas’s Sony tapings, also the LSO, which have a similar lightness of touch to Bertini’s.

The bucolic woodwind playing of the VSO is a particularly happy feature of these performances. Bertini lets the music flow; the first ‘Scherzo’, which can drag, has the right amount of momentum and dance-like pulse. Equally the ‘Adagio non troppo’, normally about 15 minutes, is here over in 11; again there’s no sense of haste, unlike in Sir Adrian Boult’s EMI recordings, where the slow movements of both serenades sound a tad harried. I suspect Sir Adrian might have been conscious of his great age; not wanting to appear sluggish, he over-compensated.

Having mentioned Mendelssohn for the first movement, it’s Dvořák that surfaces in the fourth movement ‘Menuetto’; there are two in fact, the second is once again of Mendelssohnian caste, the VSO woodwind to the fore. There’s a real spring in the step, and this I think is Bertini’s success – in keeping the music moving he is resourceful in ensuring that rhythm and melody are united; the music swings and sings, the ‘Finale’ is pertinently not rushed.

Just occasionally the horn timbre struck me as a little blowsy, and the violins could do with a bit more body. The recording, clear and well balanced, is a tad compromised in dynamic contrasts if very clear regarding detail.

The Second Serenade is a mellower piece; there are no violins in the scoring. Again, Bertini lets the music flow. This emphasis on the domestic nature of the music may not appeal to those who like something more refulgent and moulded but I feel, even allowing a suspicion that Bertini leans slightly too far the other way, that he is nearer the spirit of the music. Certainly regarding buoyancy and clarity he is hard to beat – these are serenades with rustic colours rather than city slickness, although, as Bertini reveals, this is also music of sophistication. The darker hues of the A major Serenade are a portent of later Brahms, the slow movement a slithery being of the night, an operatic scena seems to thread through the woodwinds’ web; the succeeding ‘Quasi Menuetto’ (when is a minuet not a minuet) is rather poignant, a quality Bertini seizes on.

Hopefully this release sells as ‘2-for-1’, the second CD plays for 13 minutes! This ‘waltz-suite’ is, according to the notes, by Brahms himself, something not discovered until 1938, a version for soprano, chorus and small orchestra of movements from his opuses 52 and 65, originally written for vocal quartet and piano (four hands). I would be a little suspicious about the composer being responsible for this arrangement. I recall Antal Dorati doing something similar in what turned out to be his last London concert. There he had four student singers and a handful of Royal Philharmonic players. I don’t recall a choir, and I think an arranger was given a credit.

No matter, these are charming pieces brought off with affection, an attractive encore to very pleasurable accounts of the two Serenades.

Colin Anderson

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