Brahms: Symphonies Nos 2 & 3

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: BR Klassik
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 2 & 3
PERFORMER: Bavarian Radio SO/Mariss Jansons
CATALOGUE NO: 900111(hyrbid CD/SACD)


This is a fine example of what you might call ‘modern-traditional’ Brahms. The orchestral sound is rich and deep-layered, the tempos, if not quite leisurely, still allow plenty of time to luxuriate in Brahms’s long melodies. But while one misses the re-invigorated rhythms and heightened textural clarity of Vladimir Jurowksi in Symphony No. 2, or of John Eliot Gardiner in No. 3, Jansons has so many positive qualities of his own to offer.

Not only has Jansons a firm sense of how Brahms’s long phrases rise and fall, both minutely and as grand spans, he has a keen ear for Brahmsian polyphony. There’s so much more here than melody line and accompaniment. Often several voices can be heard interweaving, as in the finest of the chamber works. In fact, Jansons’s greatest strength is the way he combines large-orchestral ripeness and power with the sense of supple internal dialogue one hears in, say, the Horn Trio or Clarinet Quintet.


That said, he’s slightly less persuasive in the Third Symphony than in the Second. Symphony No. 2 sustains its intellectual and emotional journey very convincingly – this time I didn’t miss the first movement repeat, it’s so much part of Jansons’s cogent overview. His shaping of the first theme of No. 3, however, feels just a little over-particular, and the finale could certainly have more of the sense of struggle Gardiner brings out so grippingly. Both of these are the kind of performances I would probably have enjoyed greatly in the concert hall – especially No. 2. How repeatable they might be is another question. Stephen Johnson