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Brahms: Symphony No. 2 - Järvi

Brahms: Symphony No. 2 - Järvi

Sony Classical (Japan)  SICC-10239

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Brahms: Symphony No. 2, Academic & Tragic Overtures

Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen
Paavo Järvi

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Review by John Broggio - January 1, 2017

This is the first instalment of a projected 4-disc set of Brahms' orchestral output, from Paavo Järvi and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, that apart from the symphonies will also see the appearance of the Haydn variations and the two serenades.

There are already fine accounts of the works on this disc, not least from the account in Brahms: 4 Symphonies - Manze that is in between the chamber orchestra scale on offer here and the full symphony orchestra size of Brahms: Symphony No. 2 - Fischer.

Like both these alternatives, Järvi opts to include the first movement's repeat, elongating the time to 20 minutes; all three conductors are within 17 seconds of one another, so all manage to convey the feeling of a waltz that is past its first flush of youth without trouble. Järvi, in common with their earlier outstanding Beethoven & Schumann cycles, requires relatively less pronounced rubato from his orchestra, certainly less than Ivan Fischer does from the superb Budapest Festival Orchestra. Andrew Manze is similarly modest in his application of rubato but unlike Järvi he applies it rather suddenly at times whereas both Järvi and Fischer manage to make their fluctuations sound an organic part of the performance. In comparison with Fischer, Järvi is more in favour of giving the musical momentum the room to develop whereas Fischer is scrupulous in keeping it in check. Each approach has its merits and pays off at different junctures in the score; in the joining passages, the momentum preferred by Järvi can make Fischer's more restrained approach sound mannered. Conversely, when Fischer loosens the reins, the music really takes off in a more accentuated fashion than it can under Järvi. Like the earlier Beethoven cycle, everything is played "just so", with few mannerisms and every phrase blossoming from the preceding utterance (but not at all like Karajan would have understood those words to mean!) Unlike Järvi's Beethoven, there is overtly audible vibrato except from obviously open strings (used by Brahms in the crescendo to the first climax). True, Järvi offers few points where ones ears are pricked, unlike Fischer, but in such well known and well played music that is not necessarily a negative connotation.

The slow movement brings the greatest contrast between the three conductors with Manze giving far more emphasis to the "adagio" than Järvi or Fischer, who lean more on the "non troppo" part of the tempo marking. The mood is therefore less sombre for Järvi or Fischer than Manze; neither Järvi or Fischer can be said to "gloss over" the more troubled nature of this music but the upside is that for the 12/8 sections, the music naturally unfolds an echo of the first movement. Just as in the first movement, Järvi manages all the rubato with grace so that any change feels completely "natural" and without undue emphasis that distracts from the overall musical argument. With beautifully clear playing, many felicities of Brahms' score that often pass unnoticed are audible without a musical spotlight being trained upon them.

The opening of the third movement draws ravishing playing from the DKB woodwind, fully worthy of their more famous cousins in Berlin, followed by delightful scampering strings where the antiphonal seating (a common feature for all these recordings) pays dividends. The restatement of the opening woodwind passage in the violins is arguably a little mannered but not obtrusively so. Calm is restored by the woodwinds reclaiming "their" tune and the violins give a delightful swoop in their achingly beautiful last counter melody.

The finale is not the fastest on disc but neither is it sluggish. Järvi's account is closest in "fast tempo" to Fischer's but doesn't relax as much in the slower passages (Järvi takes "tranquillo" as a mood rather than a markedly different tempo). Here the smaller forces allow the trumpets and horns to "punch" through the textures as they did in their Beethoven & Schumann cycles without the need to force their tone or volume - it's a lovely effect that neatly tips the wink to Brahms' inspirations. In the lead up to and the beginning of the recapitulation, there is a period of most magical sustained pianissimo playing from the whole orchestra that gives way to a thrilling celebration of sound moments later and, in the coda, every single quaver run from the cellos & basses upwards is audible to end on a note of complete elation.

After a respectful pause, the mood immediately takes a turn towards more stormy fare in the Tragic Overture (there is a misprint on the back of the set and in the booklet where it claims it is the Academic Festival Overture). The translucency of texture is a marvel and beyond even the wonders achieved by Fischer; Järvi achieves what one imagines Abbado would have sought in Luzern had he chosen to address more of the music of Brahms there. Here, Järvi makes more of a contrast with the "molto più moderato" section and effectively postpones the "tempo primo" instruction until the music returns into transformed Beethoven 9 Scherzo territory; effective but arguably not what Brahms intended. The Academic Festival Overture brings the disc to a glorious close. Some conductors like to consciously "restrain" the momentum of the opening motifs whenever the occur, Järvi feels no such need and it results in a completely fresh account of this uncharacteristically brilliant Brahms scoring.

One factor that must be addressed is that Fischer's symphonic forces bring a weight and lushness that a chamber orchestra, no matter how good they may be (and the ~50 players of the DKB are incredibly good), simply cannot be ignored. That is not to say that the DKB tone is in any way lightweight or lacking in lustre but side-by-side it is a cleaner sound than the already miraculously "pure" tones that Fischer obtains from the BFO. Both Järvi's DKB and Fischer's BFO are in a noticeably different (and higher) league of playing when compared directly to Manze's Helsingborg forces (good though they are). Both Järvi and Fischer are also afforded a wider dynamic range by their recording teams; Manze's account on CPO sounds compressed to these ears by comparison and Järvi nor Fischer are seldom indulging in the "hyper-pianissimo" style of music making in this repertory.

Taking everything into account, this is promises well for the remaining 3 discs (and will happily supplement Fischer's wonderful account of the same music on my shelves), this is an easy "first choice" for a chamber-orchestra sized approach to this wonderful, largely joyful music.

Copyright © 2017 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

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Comments (3)
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Comment by hiredfox - October 5, 2016 (1 of 3)

This recording carries the serial number SICC-10239 and will be released on 26/10/2016

Comment by William Hecht - October 9, 2016 (2 of 3)

As usual Sony has raised a finger or two to US collectors. $44, or $30 + shipping from Japan, I don't think so. It's not like we're short of good Brahms performances on sacd.

Comment by hiredfox - October 16, 2016 (3 of 3)

On the face of it Japanese consumers get a very rough deal on SACD prices but the demand must be there to justify the prices being asked of them.

Like you Bill, I buy a small number of discs regularly from CDJapan simply because they are not available here in the UK. The Universal single layer re-masters of old favourites are of special appeal to me simply because by some magic - I know not what - they are the best sounding stereo SACD money can buy. Many of Sony's SACD emanate only from Japan these days as well so, imagine the plight of colleagues and friends over here with our beloved £ sterling trading at around US$1.20 and Euro 1.13 !

We are not yet quite at the point of bread on the table or SACD but as you say (and as 'they' say these days) everyone has red lines.