Brahms Symphony No. 2
Founded in 1828, the Hamburg Philharmonic has welcomed some illustrious maestros over the decades, including Mahler, Otto Klemperer and Stravinsky. Since 2005, the Australian conductor Simone Young has been in charge, directing a well-received series of live Bruckner recordings and, now, an unfolding Brahms cycle. The acoustic of the orchestra’s ornate Laeiszhalle home sounds warm and spacious, enhancing the orchestra’s radiant woodwind, glowing brass and vibrant strings. The audience is unobtrusive.
Almost from the Second Symphony’s amply swaying, golden-toned opening bars, it is clear that this is going to be a full-blooded traditionalist reading, unalloyed by ‘period performance’ scruples. At the same time, Young has evidently reconsidered many of the interpretative habits the score has acquired over time, and rejected some. Her subtle control of rubato is always subservient to the long-term momentum of the music. The almost 20-minute span of the opening movement, complete with exposition repeat, seems to unfold as a single arc.
She also holds the brooding slow movement, in which beat and phrasing are so often at variance, exceptionally well together. The presto interludes in the Allegretto grazioso are delectably crisp and the ebullient finale, though taken fast, is never allowed to degenerate into a scramble. The Tragic Overture, which can seem to wander in the more ghostly passages of its development, is similarly cohesive here. Perhaps the unobtrusive ‘long view’ of Bernard Haitink’s Brahms recordings would be the nearest comparison, except that Young’s articulation tends to be just that bit more vital, and the results – dare it be said? – more exciting.