When reviewing the West Hill Radio Archives set of Münch conducting
Beethoven Symphonies and Concertos (WHRA
– 5 CDs) I made the point that Münch was best known for
his performances of French music and although he programmed the
German repertoire in his concerts any recording of him in these
works is to be sought out. That Beethoven set was a revelation,
so is this Brahms.
Considered to be the “sunniest”, perhaps what is meant is the
easiest to listen to, of his four Symphonies, No.2 is, to be sure,
without most of the stresses and strains to be found in his other
symphonic works. It has a relaxed atmosphere almost throughout
and even when Brahms raises his voice it isn’t in an aggressive
manner, more that of a stern father reprimanding his errant child.
The first movement, marked Allegro non troppo
, and that
designation of non troppo
(not too much) is apt for this
music isn’t “fast” per se
; neither is it that easy allegretto
intermezzo–type of tempo Brahms so often chooses for his scherzo
equivalent movements. In this performance Münch leans away from
the non troppo
in favour of the allegro
. At times
one feels a sense of the music being rushed and pushed slightly
too hard. Certainly I occasionally felt a breathlessness to the
performance and the very ending of the movement is somewhat glib.
The slow movement, Adagio non troppo
, whilst again suffering
from too little non troppo
, has a grand symphonic sweep,
the opening tune being given the full and romantic treatment,
and the ensuing woodwind dialogue is quite delightfully placed.
However, the second subject is most certainly rushed and robbed
of its warmth and stature, but this mood soon passes and the rest
of the movement positively glows.
The third movement, a medium paced intermezzo, with a fast middle
section, which appears twice, is just about perfect. Münch marries
the two different types of music together well and makes a satisfactory
whole, even the overdone rallentando at the end fits in perfectly
with Münch’s view.
The finale is a real race, and, in some ways, it’s none the worse
for that. Here, Münch pushes the music at times, for parts of
it can take this more hard-edged approach, In order for it to
really work there needs to be contrast, a slight relaxing of the
forward momentum from time to time, so that one doesn’t have the
feeling of the band sounding uncomfortable, and this is missing
here. It’s very exciting but lacks a real heart.
Despite my misgivings concerning Münch’s interpretation, and the
orchestra’s occasionally moments of discomfiture, I enjoyed most
of this performance. It is so alive, so full of electricity and
there’s a passionate verve in evidence in almost every bar. The
sound is very clear, if somewhat fierce at times, and can take
a slight cut in the treble to make the violins a little less wiry
and brutal. Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this to you for it to
be your only recording of this work, but it does complement my
favourites: Marin Alsop (Naxos
– coupled with 8 Hungarian Dances
(EMI 5 69819 2 – coupled with the Haydn Variations also on HMV
and Horenstein (live in 1966 on SOMMCD 037 – coupled with Strauss’s
I am very happy to have this performance available for whilst
not displaying Brahms on holiday, so to speak, it does show Brahms
the kindly uncle who is occasionally a bit gruff.