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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No 2 in D Op.73 (1877)
Tragic Overture Op.81 (1880)
Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra/Hans Vonk
Rec. Hilversum, MCO – Studio 1, June 2003 DDD, Super Audio CD

Vonk’s reading of Brahms’s glorious 2nd Symphony is lean and almost classical in feel. Although generally well-played by the Dutch radio orchestra, occasionally it seems a bit underpowered. The first movement suffers most and comes across as too leisurely for my taste. With the exposition repeat included, it has almost Brucknerian proportions and lasts for almost 21 minutes. Comparisons with Haitink’s recent live recording with the LSO ( LSO0043) are not favourable to Vonk. The sound quality on both these discs is excellent but Haitink’s performance has more interesting phrasing and greater contrasts. Accounting for the missing exposition repeat (which I am not sure is essential in this work), the timings of the first movement are quite similar but Haitink’s rendition doesn’t seem slow. I enjoyed Vonk’s adagio and honours are about even in the middle movements. However, in the last movement Haitink’s performance catches fire much more convincingly – perhaps an advantage of live recording. Nor would I prefer Vonk’s reading to studio performances conducted by Boult and Sanderling from the early 1970s. By the side of either, this newcomer is rather bland, although the sound is preferable. In summary, this is a decent performance of the symphony but Vonk finds less in the music than others and is not really distinctive.

The Tragic Overture is performed in similar vein to the symphony. Although an apt coupling, it is hardly generous – Haitink’s disc has a glowing performance of Brahms’s Double Concerto. The disc is well-presented apart from a lack of information about the performers. This seems to be the only SACD version of Brahms’s 2nd Symphony yet available. I have only heard it on a standard CD player and cannot comment on the gain from SACD. In contrast to the open field on SACD, competition is considerable on CD and it would be hard to recommend this disc unless you particularly want to hear Brahms’s 2nd in the SACD format.

Patrick C Waller

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