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Paavo Järvi conducts Brahms’s Symphony No. 2 and Tragic Overture

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Brahms
Symphony No. 2; Tragic Overture; Academic Festival Overture
Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen/Paavo Järvi
Sony Classical 88985459462

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The instant we hear the luminously pure wind chorale opening Brahms’s Second Symphony, we know we are in safe hands. All the hallmarks that distinguished Paavo Järvi’s Schumann cycle with the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie are here: airy, vibrato-free strings, subtly-hued winds and natural horns. It’s worth noting that he uses the latest Henle urtext edition. The playing is crisp and alert, though not always fluent:  the first movement waltzes have an idiomatic lilt, but the gears grind clumsily at the transition to the next episode. The crunch of dissonance between cadences near the Allegro’s end are spectacularly heightened here by natural brass.

Brahms’s gorgeous cello melody in the Adagio non troppo is relatively swift and austere, warming up only when repeated on solo horn. But there is impressive detail in the contrapuntal string playing in this movement, and some superb quiet playing, beautifully balanced. Järvi achieves the required flexibility in a tenderly inward Allegretto grazioso, whose presto has Mendelssohnian lightness. A frost-fresh Allegro con spirito is full of bright contrast, with off-beat rhythms driven hard. A resplendent finish is marked by drily penetrating timpani. Yet, for all its explosive energy and confidence, there’s something rather literal about this reading. We miss a certain perfume and warmth. Chailly’s Leipzig reading (Decca) manages to be both swifter and more sensuous.

Järvi’s Tragic Overture is a rollicking drama, with delectably keen horns, though it sags a little in the middle. He injects a welcome sense of fun into the Academic Festival Overture.

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Helen Wallace