Brahms: Symphony No. 2 in D; Tragic Overture

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Symphony No. 2 in D; Tragic Overture
PERFORMER: London Classical Players/Roger Norrington
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 7 54875 2 DDD
With Brahms, Norrington and the London Classical Players have taken their quest for ‘authentic’ performance styles into an era which most people would consider musically part of the modern age. But late-19th-century orchestras were smaller, the woodwind proportionally larger, and the pitch lower by about a semitone, so there is ample justification for the extensive research that has so far produced recordings of the first two symphonies and the Requiem.

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An obvious restoration, not popular in modern interpretations (but see Janowski, Reissues, p. 98), is the exposition repeat in the first movement, which in one stroke gives this splendid peroration the foundation it deserves. The sound of the orchestra is a far cry from the tuneless gut-scraping that is the enduring image of ‘authentic’ instruments. The woodwind are not as dominant as the booklet note would suggest, and the strings make up for their reduced numbers with a burnished lustre that is entirely modern. Norrington takes obvious delight in the playful Allegretto, and the final movement is propelled to an exhilarating conclusion by the staccato textures of period brass and timpani.

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The weight of Ozawa’s reading lies in the sumptuous upholstery of the first two movements, with occasionally wayward woodwind hiding behind a lavish string sound. Mind you, his last movement is also exciting, and the lack of the exposition repeat means that there’s room for the Third Symphony as well. Christopher Lambton