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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.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

Previous reviews: Michael Cookson ~~ Stephen Barber



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