LABELS: RCO Live
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven and Bruckner
WORKS: Symphony No 2
PERFORMER: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Mariss Jansons
CATALOGUE NO: RCO 05002
One very good and one possibly great performance are brought together on this disc. The playing of the Concertgebouw Orchestra is every bit as beautiful as on Bernard Haitink’s new Bruckner Eighth Symphony (see review p83). But here it is also fresh, alert and deliciously attentive to detail. Put the Beethoven beside Douglas Boyd and the Manchester Camerata (Avie), or still more the explosively vital David Zinman with the Zurich Tonhalle (Arte Nova), and you’d probably miss the sense that in this work the romantic Prometheus is struggling to break his bonds. With Jansons, you get the sense more that Beethoven’s Second is a remarkably original late classical symphony – the innovations of the Eroica are still a step or two round the corner.
But the Brahms Second Symphony is wonderful: impassioned but never histrionic, poetic but never self-indulgent, it is one of the best representations of Brahms as Classical-Romantic to emerge in a long time. Romantic urgency is present in the Adagio’s long melodic lines and in the first movement’s striving central climax, but the formal container always holds. It’s a balance that at times reminds me of Klemperer, except that there are also touches of deft humour – especially in the finale – that remind us that Brahms was also an admirer of Haydn. Perhaps the recorded sound could have had a bit more body; but the clarity, atmosphere and fine balance of detail are admirable. As far as modern versions go, I’d have no hesitation in putting this at the top of my recommended list. Stephen Johnson