Brahms

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Accentus
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms
WORKS: Serenade No. 2; Alto Rhapsody; Symphony No. 2
PERFORMER: Sara Mingardo (mezzo); Bavarian Radio Choir; Lucerne Festival Orchestra/ Andris Nelsons
CATALOGUE NO: ACC 20325

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August 2014 – the first Lucerne Festival without Claudio Abbado. One can only guess at the burden of expectation weighing on Andris Nelsons, chosen to conduct the four concerts programmed by Abbado before he died. As this finely directed, unfussily shot DVD shows, long and standing ovations confirmed Nelsons’s triumph.

We see his sentient hands and face incarnate and gleefully make visible the entire nerve system of the music. All this adds delight to the Lucerne Festival Orchestra’s performance of Brahms’s Serenade No. 2 in A, and to Nelsons’s mischievous animation of detail in the third movement of Symphony No 2. Nelsons ventilates Brahms’s orchestration, exploiting the refined ensemble nurtured over a decade by Abbado. There’s a lightness of pacing, but also a tautly focused heft in the slow movement, where weight and world-weariness demand it. There’s also, particularly in the finale, that thrilling frisson of the unpredictable.

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In the Alto Rhapsody, Sara Mingardo offers a stark and sombre intensity of reponse to the isolation of the traveller in Goethe’s Harz Mountain Journey in Winter. Yet the melodic line is everywhere live and lithe, with the finest, most elusive nuancing of tone and colour. The men of the Bavarian Radio Choir soothe her fragile prayer with the gentlest support. Hilary Finch