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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Serenade No. 1 in D major, Op. 11 (1858) [50:45]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Romances for violin and orchestra: No. 1 Op. 40 (1802) [7:30]; No. 2, Op. 50 (1802) [8:54]
Kansai Philharmonic Orchestra/Augustin Dumay (violin)
rec. 4-6 May 2012, Matsuka Hall, Kobe, Japan
ONYX 4101 [67:28] 

The first orchestral work Brahms completed was his D major Serenade, written during the years 1857-60 when he was employed at the court of Detmold. The music follows the precedent of Mozart’s orchestral serenades by using a standard classical orchestra of double woodwinds, pairs of horns and trumpets, timpani and strings, while containing the essential movements of a classical symphony plus some additional dance movements besides.
The CD cover introduces the Serenade as ‘a sunny work full of bracing and exuberant tunes’, and whoever wrote this has captured the essence of the matter. That essence is exactly what Dumay and his excellent Japanese regional orchestra succeed in conveying. For example, the opening has a real sense of uplift, the momentum generated throughout the orchestra and captured in very clear-textured sound by the Onyx engineers. At the opposite remove there is an extended slow movement, a true Adagio fifteen minutes long, and the quality of the playing is beyond question. While not engaging in the powerful drama to be found in the symphonies created later in Brahms’ career, this Serenade remains a substantial composition what is longer than the symphonies, and this performance does it justice. Perhaps the performance doesn’t quite match the eloquence achieved by Claudio Abbado and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra (DG 4765786), but it remains very fine, and there is an interesting coupling. The latter is provided by the two Beethoven Romances composed during the first years of the nineteenth century. The music is engaging and eloquent, and these words suit Dumay’s performance too. Most of his work has been as a violinist and his enviable reputation is enhanced here. 

This Brahms Serenade is perhaps less well-known than it might be, so it is useful to have the advantage of Philip Borg-Wheeler’s perceptive and informative notes. 

Terry Barfoot

Previous review: Albert Lam