ALBUM TITLE: Brahms
WORKS: Serenades Nos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: Gävle Symphony Orchestra/Jaime Martin
CATALOGUE NO: ODE 1291-2
Brahms’s Serenades offer two faces of the developing composer: the First a richly confident celebration of his Viennese antecedents, the Second exuding a shadowy inner world.
A key to the success of the First is tempo: at 40 minutes, it exceeds most symphonies. One may understand why an English critic in 1872 wrote that ‘the last note of the work was unanimously hailed as a relief’. Riccardo Chailly’s recent Gewandhaus recording (Decca), five minutes shorter than Jaime Martin’s with the Gävle Symphony, provides a Brahmsian masterclass – swift, lithe, and sparing of accent; Martin offers melting loveliness but a certain plodding predictability. Brahms comes close to Dvoπák in this opening Allegro molto, with its drones, jaunty bass-line rhythms, and streaming melodies from horn and upper strings. The Gävle Symphony’s pastoral winds sound sleepy, and lower strings too stately, further confirmed in a tame Scherzo. A dreamy Adagio non troppo given a nicely rustling inner texture here promotes the idea of a serenade as soothing evening music. But the minuets, Scherzo and rondo that follow need to spring into life: this rondo’s rhythms have the mannered emphasis of a high-stepping horse.
No surprise that the First Serenade’s smaller, darkling sister was a favourite of Brahms’s: its crepuscular scoring (violas, cellos, basses and winds), and its playful manipulation of metre and rhythm are inimitable. In this Adagio, a beautifully balanced wind chorale glides across a sea of bass pizzicatos and Martin gives its Quasi menuetto character a loose, lolloping swing. But the Gävle players can sound slow-witted in the Scherzo’s cross-rhythms, which Chailly pin-points with precision.