Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Serenade No 1 in D, Op.11 [39.09]
Serenade No 2 in A, Op.16 [26.09]
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly
rec. Gewandhaus, Leipzig, 2014 DECCA 478 6775 [65.19]
This disc follows on from Riccardo Chailly's enthusiastically
received and award-winning cycle of the Brahms symphonies (review).
It was inevitable that Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus players —
who seem to have abandoned their geographical prefix — would turn
their attention to the two earlier serenades, symphonic in scale if
not in manner. An informative booklet note by Peter Korfmacher (in three
languages) makes expansive claims for these largely charming works,
although a bizarre misunderstanding in the English translation seems
to apply his description of them as “work[s] that did not succeed
in entering the canon” to the Haydn Variations rather
than the serenades themselves.
Korfmacher draws attention to the marking Allegro molto for
the opening movement of the First Serenade, and quotes Chailly
as observing that the music can drag at a slower tempo. He cites Boult
— whose Brahms cycle despite certain eccentricities remains a
model – he was after all a pupil of Nikisch — as a precedent.
In fact Chailly is not conspicuously faster than István Kertesz, whose
first movement clocks in at only one minute longer and who conducted
the premičre stereo recordings of the two serenades as recently as the
late 1960s. At the time the Stereo Record Guide commented on
the neglect accorded to these scores. These new performances under Chailly,
superbly recorded, make their continued relegation to the fringes of
the repertoire even more inexplicable.
We are told that Chailly has reduced the orchestral forces of the orchestra
for these recordings. This is presumably over and above the composer’s
own omission of the violins from the Second Serenade. That
said, the internal balance of the orchestra is magnificent, with characterful
woodwind playing throughout as in the ‘minuet’ movement
of the First Serenade (track 4). There is no shortage of power
and vigour either and the forthright delivery of the rondo finale (track
6) is properly energetic.
The absence of violins from the score of the Second Serenade
might be expected to result in a more heavy impression. Again the results
here are far from overweighted and the woodwind inflections are lively
and charming. Once again Chailly manages to find plenty of vigour in
the infectious finale.
This is a splendid pendant to Chailly’s Leipzig Brahms cycle,
superbly recorded and bringing up these unfairly neglected scores as
fresh as a daisy.