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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 73 [44:51]
Hungarian Dance No. 1 in g minor (orch. Brahms) [3:24]
Hungarian Dance No. 3 in F (orch. Brahms) [2:46]
Hungarian Dance No. 10 in F (orch. Brahms) [1:52]
Hungarian Dance No. 17 in f-sharp minor (orch. Dvořák) [3:37]
Hungarian Dance No. 18 in D (orch. Dvořák) [1:31]
Hungarian Dance No. 19 in b minor (orch. Dvořák) [2:38]
Hungarian Dance No. 20 in e minor (orch. Dvořák) [2:44]
Hungarian Dance No. 21 in e minor (orch. Dvořák) [1:42]

London Philharmonic Orchestra/Marin Alsop
rec. 21-22 March 2005, Blackheath Concert Hall, London; 28 March 2005, Watford Colosseum, UK.
NAXOS 8.557429 [65:06]

Brahms spent nearly fifteen years in the creation of his first symphony, living in the shadow of Beethoven and being reluctant to release a work that would surely be compared to the elder composer’s ninth symphony. When he finally did finish his first, the second came very quickly and is rather striking in its contrast. Considerably more tuneful and introspective, the second clearly indicates a more relaxed, confident composer. Brahms himself referred to the work as "the happy symphony".

After her widely acclaimed recording of the Symphony No. 1 reviews , many have anxiously awaited the arrival of the next installment in Marin Alsop’s cycle, and I can assure you dear reader, that you will not be disappointed. What impressed me most was the gentleness of her approach to this music. At over twenty minutes, there has to be something of interest at all times going on in the opening movement, and Alsop finds all of the characteristic counter-melodies in Brahms’ score, and lovingly invites them out to play, and sends them back indoors when it is time for the next guest’s appearance.

Equally remarkable is the lush, golden tone that she gets from the London Philharmonic’s string section, the evenly balanced winds and just-right juxtaposition of support and power from the brass. Tempi throughout are just perfect. The second movement adagio is never syrupy; rather there is that immediately appealing amber quality about the sound that makes Brahms sound like Brahms. Ms. Alsop’s glory is in her refusal to superimpose her own ego on the music. It still belongs to the composer, and in her hands is lovingly recreated, held aloft with the utmost respect. The third movement is played with élan and grace, and the conclusion is never raucous, rather, Alsop serves up a joyous, triumphant conclusion.

The disc is filled out with a nice sampling of the Hungarian Dances, originally composed for piano four-hands, here deftly orchestrated by both Brahms and his protégé Antonín Dvořák. These pieces show Brahms’ oft-suppressed sense of humor and are indicative of the composer’s fascination with folk music. There is nothing profound about this music, but Alsop delivers these little gems with panache and fun, and they are a delightful release of tension from the more intense symphony.

Alsop’s Brahms cycle is one that should go alongside the great cycles of Solti, Szell and von Karajan as exemplary readings. That they are available at Naxos price and ease of acquisition is a big bonus. This is one that you will not want to miss, regardless of how many other recordings you have of these works. Outstanding on every level.

Kevin Sutton

see also review of Symphony No 1




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