Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Variations on a Theme by Haydn St. Anthony Chorale, Op. 56a (1873) [17:33]
Serenade No 1 in D major, Op. 11 (1857-60) [43:33]
Hungarian Dance No 1 in G minor [3:01]
Hungarian Dance No 3 in F major [2:25]
Hungarian Dance No 10 in F major 1:50]
Bamberger Symphoniker – Bayerische Staatsphilharmonie/Robin Ticciati
rec. 7-11 September 2010, Konzerthalle, Bamberg – Joseph-Keilberth-Saal. DSD
TUDOR 7183 [68:44]
Robin Ticciati is establishing a very strong reputation. I haven’t yet caught up with his new Berlioz CD, which has been much praised (review). However, a little while ago I enjoyed greatly a disc of choral works by Brahms (review) so I was keen to hear him in a programme of the same composer’s purely orchestral music.
The Haydn Variations get off to an auspicious start with the pace quite fleet but not rushed. I love the sound of the Bamberg wind and horns – cultured rusticity is how I’d describe it. Thereafter the variations themselves are very well done. Ticciati shapes each one very nicely and the playing is lively and sensitive. A particular pleasure is the way in which the bass instruments register firmly yet without any sense of intrusiveness; it’s very natural. In part that’s probably due to the excellent work of the Tudor engineers who have produced a fine, open and realistic recording for this and the other works on the disc.
The melancholy fourth variation is beautifully phrased, the autumnal colours glowing gently, while the mercurial fifth variation whips by in a flash, the notes crisply articulated. The seventh variation is lightly and gracefully played. Ticciati skilfully avoids any risk of portentousness in the finale. In short, this is a delightful and very satisfying performance of one of Brahms’ most engaging scores.
The Haydn Variations are no strangers to the catalogue but the two Serenades are less well represented. The First began life as a three-movement nonet for woodwind and string quartet to which three more movements were added in 1859. The work in its present form dates from 1860 and is scored for an orchestra of double wind, pairs of horns and trumpets, timpani and strings – its successor, in A major, is less conventionally scored in that it omits parts for violins. The structure of the D major work is slightly unusual in that it consists of six movements but the last three are all quite short – they play for a total of just over 12 minutes in this performance. In fact, the writer of the booklet notes, Alfred Beaujean, makes an interesting distinction between the first three symphonic movements after which, he says, “comes the Serenade proper” in the shape of the remaining trio of movements.
Ticciati’s account of the first movement is thoroughly winning. The music is lively and has a happy air from start to finish. The orchestra sound as if they are enjoying themselves; this is a performance with a smiling countenance. I also enjoyed enormously the mellow Adagio non troppo. The playing has real finesse and the phrasing is warm though Ticciati quite rightly keeps the music moving forward. Alfred Beaujean is spot-on in suggesting that the meat of this work lies in its first three movements. The concluding three are much lighter in tone and much shorter in span – indeed, in total, they play for less time than Ticciati takes over the first movement. The Menuetto is played with a beguiling lightness of touch and the second Scherzo, so reminiscent of Beethoven, swings along nicely with some splendid work from the horns. To conclude there’s a delightfully fresh and outgoing account of the Rondo finale.
This is a most successful and enjoyable performance of the Serenade. It’s interesting to note that Ticciati, who was born in 1983, was 27 at the time these recordings were made; that’s the same age that Brahms was when he completed the Serenade. I can’t help feeling that it’s not just a coincidence that Ticciati has so convincingly interpreted the music of a man of exactly the same age.
Finally, we’re offered the three Hungarian Dances that Brahms somewhat grudgingly orchestrated in 1873 at his publisher’s request. I won’t pretend that these pieces are Desert Island Brahms as far as I’m concerned but they’re very well done here and make a suitable finale to Ticciati’s programme.
As I indicated earlier, the sound on this disc – to which I listened as a conventional CD – is excellent; the engineers achieve a balance between clarity and warmth that’s ideal for this music.
This is a very fine disc which I’ve enjoyed enormously. I hope that Robin Ticciati will record the Second Serenade before too long.
John Quinn
Some more fine and successful Brahms performances from an impressive young conductor.