Originally founded in 1970 as a 25-member string chamber orchestra,
the Osaka-based Kansai Philharmonic has since more than doubled its ranks to
become a 58-musician orchestra complete with winds, brass, and percussion.
Renowned French violinist Augustin Dumay was appointed music director in
2011. Together, they made their recording debut with Saint-Säens’
and Cello Concerto
for Onyx in 2012. In this,
their second release for Onyx, they present an interesting juxtaposition of
Brahms’ Serenade No. 1
and Beethoven’s two
for violin and orchestra.
Brahms completed the Serenade No. 1
in 1857, around the same
time that he was working on his First Piano Concerto. Originally scored for
wind and string octet, it was expanded for chamber nonet and subsequently
arranged for full orchestra. The orchestral version was published in 1860,
making it Brahms’ first orchestral work in print. The Serenade is in
six movements and lasts just over 50 minutes, making it a relatively
substantial orchestral composition. It gives a foretaste of the symphonic
Brahms that was to come. The first movement (Allegro
gets off to a lively start and is followed by second
(Scherzo: Allegro non troppo
and third (Adagio non
movements of a pleasant, bucolic nature. The fourth
(Menuetto I - Menuetto II
) and fifth (Scherzo: Allegro
movements are considerably shorter; the fourth is reminiscent of Mozartean
minuets while the fifth with its horn-calls carries the spirit of the hunt.
The final Rondo
, brisk and galloping in tempo, ends with a memorable
and uplifting conclusion. While the Kansai Philharmonic might not have quite
the fullness heard in Istvan Kertesz’s Decca recording with the London
Symphony Orchestra (Decca SXL 6340, 1967; Australian Eloquence ELQ4804839,
2012 or 466 672-2
, 2002) or in Bernard Haitink’s Philips
recording with the Royal Concertgebouw (Philips 9500 322, 1977; Decca 4782365
, 2010), orchestral textures are remarkably clear and
colourful. That is not to say that the Kansai Philharmonic is not capable of
producing a big sound. On the contrary, just listen to how effectively they
are able gradually and controllably to build up energy and momentum in the
closing measures of the final movement. From the sound of it, Dumay has
certainly inspired some fine playing in his strings, and the winds and horns
are particularly commendable for their clarity, intonation, and
Augustin Dumay goes from being conductor to both soloist and
conductor in Beethoven’s two Romances for Violin and Orchestra.
He performs both quite affectionately, playing with a sweetness of tone and
delicacy of phrasing that is perfectly matched to these lyrical works. The
members of the orchestra provide their leader with a sensitive and
well-balanced accompaniment. While my favourite for these works has
previously been the outstanding, budget-priced recording with Christian
Tetzlaff and the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich (Arte Nova 769940
, 2006), Dumay and his Japanese
orchestra now offer a very fine alternative.
These performances are captured in excellent, clear sound.
Presentation is slightly laid back, and the soundstage is both wide and
deep. For works that don’t generate a tremendous amount of bass power,
bass extension is nonetheless quite deep and aurally satisfying, which for
me translated into a greater appreciation of the impact and presence of the
double basses and timpani.
This was my first exposure to the Kansai Philharmonic under
Dumay’s direction and I certainly enjoyed this recording. If their
first two CDs for Onyx are any indication of the quality of performance and
sound to come from this orchestra I look forward to their upcoming releases.