Even if the answer to the question Aimez-vous Brahms? is
normally an emphatic Non! you may well feel more enthusiastic
about these two early Serenades. Although there are plentiful
hints of the later composer, they both have the very fresh character
of a young composer full of ideas, even if not all are very new.
Both were written before the composer had dared to attempt a Symphony;
they are indeed his first orchestral works. The first was originally
intended as a Nonet for wind and strings, and, despite rescoring
for orchestra with double woodwind, four horns and two trumpets,
it retains a very characteristic sound, especially as heard here,
which owes much to such earlier composers as Haydn and Schubert.
Despite this and the frequent episodes characteristic of the mature
composer, there is also a delightfully rustic quality at times
which seems to have something in common with that of many of Mahler’s
second Serenade is for somewhat smaller forces, with only two
horns and no trumpets, but its most unusual feature is the absence
of violins. Although this is not dissimilar in its scoring to
Dvořák’s later Serenade in D minor for wind with cello
and double bass its character is wholly different, and these
two works do indeed make a fascinating contrast.
of Brahms’ Serenades have occasional sections that can seem
overlong – in particular the second movement of the first Serenade
which last over 15 minutes here – but this is more the case
of a young composer trying out new structures than of natural
works gain immensely from the use of period instruments, although
now that we can take virtually for granted playing that is in
tune and has no less proficiency than would be the case with
modern instruments the difference is not as marked as it once
would have been. Even here, though, there are big gains in clarity
of texture and in the delightfully differentiated tones of the
different instruments. Indeed, the only possibly doubtful aspects
of these performances are a few moments, such as the Coda to
the first movement of Second Serenade, when the conductor appears
to be applying rubato rather than allowing it to occur
as a natural response to the music. It does not happen often,
and perhaps it is because of this that it feels less natural
when it does happen.
have not compared them with the various alternatives currently
available, but in general these are fresh performances making
the most of the music’s youthful qualities. The disc is well recorded,
has good notes by Silke Schloen, and is well filled, albeit at
the expense of the first movement repeat in the First Serenade.
I strongly recommend it, either as a sole recording of these works,
or as an interesting alternative to performances in a more autumnal
vein on modern instruments.