Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Serenade no. 1 in D major, Op. 11 (1857-1858) [33:09]
Serenade no. 2 in A major, Op. 16 (1858-1859) [45:10]
West German Sinfonia/Dirk Joeres
rec. 1992, DDD
ALTO ALC 1098 [79:00]

Some conductors, for one reason or another, make a few recordings and then disappear at least so far as the CD market is concerned. Hugo Rignold (1905-1976) was one such. He is remembered, if at all, for his distinguished Bliss Lyrita disc and perhaps for his Seiber Jazz Improvisation on a Saga LP. To date Dirk Joeres can be counted in the same camp as Rignold. In fact he has recorded far more than his English counterpart. He has recorded a handful of CDs. There are two Schumann discs. One is on Regis RRC1237 (Symphony No. 3 Rhenish; Overture, Scherzo and Finale; Symphonic Studies (Adagio, Finale) orch. Tchaikovsky). The other is from BIS (BIS-CD-1055: Symphony No. 2 op. 61; Schumann/Ravel 4 Pieces from Carnaval op 9; Schumann/Adorno: 6 Pieces from op. 68). These are with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of which he has been Permanent Guest Conductor since 2007. This Bonn-born pupil of Nadia Boulanger has been Music Director of the West German Sinfonia since 1987. With them he has recorded Schubert Symphonies 2 and 5 (Real Sound 051-0095), Bizet’s Symphony in C (Regis RRC1191) and Vorisek’s Symphony op. 24 (Forum FRC 9109). His credentials are well and truly established.

The present fine recordings have been around for a little while and this seems to be their third appearance. They began on the now departed IMP Classics label as IMP 2046. They then surfaced on Regis RRC 1048. Their return is welcome. Sharing harness they make for a generous pairing on CD. The readings are relaxed yet not sloppy. As works they inhabit a youthful world away from the emotional tempests of Brahms’ Symphonies 1 and 4. Their realm is that of the Second and Third Symphonies (No. 1 Scherzo tr. 2) and the St Anthony Variations, Beethoven’s Pastoral (No. 1 Allegro molto), the symphonies of Huber and the suites by Ludolf Nielsen. The movements make for good companionable listening with music that is variously affable, spry, pensive (No. 2, Allegro moderato and Adagio non troppo), urbane and rustic. Along the way we seem to glimpse hunting scenes (No. 1, Scherzo tr. 5 ), domestic Mozartean at-homes (the Menuetto movements) and harvest fields. The woodwind of the West German Sinfonia are particularly pleasing (as in No. 1, Menuetto; No. 2, Quasi menuetto) where Mozart’s own cassations and serenades are surely part of the parentage. Joeres’ music-making is warm, dignified and gracious – completely in touch with the youthful Brahms. The recording is clear yet not clinical. I confess to having heard only the Haitink versions (as part of the Decca Concertgebouw box - review) in recent years though I have distant recollections of some fine work by Boult for EMI. There are also similarly coupled CDs on CPO (Capella Augustina/Andreas Spering – rated highly by John Sheppard), Sony (Michael Tilson Thomas/LSO), Eloquence (Kertesz/LSO), DG (Abbado), Telarc (Mackerras/SCO) and years ago on Arte Nova (Alun Francis/OS di Milano Giuseppe Verdi) but I have not heard these. Between Haitink and Joeres the latter is the more engaging but it’s academic as the Haitink is available only as part of a big Collectors’ Edition box. Joeres is accessible as one CD at bargain price. Its artistic values are impeccable. No need to look further.

Rob Barnett

Warm, dignified and gracious – no need to look further.