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Brahms: Symphony No. 2
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Brahms: Symphony No. 2 & Alto Rhapsody
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Description du produit
Après le succès mondial du premier disque de Brahms sous la direction de John Eliot Gardiner, Soli Deo Gloria poursuit la série avec la Symphonie n°2. John Eliot Gardiner replace les symphonies de Brahms dans le contexte de sa musique chorale et celle de compositeurs tels que Bach ou Schubert.
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur Amazon.com
I was most interested in the Alto Rhapsody recording. The Monteverdi Choir's sound is very bright and almost barbershoppy, though the intonation is impeccable and the entrances and cut-offs clear and crisp (as you'd expect from a renaissance group). Ms. Stutzmann's pronunciation and phrasing are great...
However, her intonation is "blue" in many places, and sounds simply flat rather than expressive against the orchestra and choir; not something I think that Gardiner should have accepted. So one or two stars.
The Symphony #2 is excellent. Five stars again. Still working through the Shubert.
I need to confess that I am not normally a fan of Brahms' second symphony. The first symphony with its beautiful interweaving themes and rich, deep sonorities is the one that has always claimed my heart. And no wonder - it took Brahms 15 years to write his first symphony. Once Brahms had gotten over his terror of writing the long form, the second symphony only took him a few months to churn out. For that reason, and others, Number 2 always seemed like the symphony that had to try harder, sort of like no-fat ice cream or "light" beer.
Since I couldn't trust what I'd heard at the Stop and Shop (after all, it could have been sun spots), I felt compelled to purchase the CD. When it arrived, I popped it into the machine, clicked ahead to the last movement, and sat down, prepared for disappointment. It only took one sforzando to have me leaping to my feet, wildly "air conducting" (the Classical equivalent of an "air guitar"). Oh, the passion of it! The fire! The incredible vitality!! It was like riding on a runaway train. When it was over, I listened to it again. I was hooked.
This is what Gardiner has done: he has restored the life to Brahms' light little pastoral symphony. The tradition of conducting this symphony with either a ten-ton baton (I'm not naming names here, but "Bern" and "Stein" figure prominently), or a metronome tick-tick-ticking in the background (no names! Bruno isn't really a name) has finally been laid to rest. By sticking to the original instrumentation, Gardiner has allowed the themes to come through with a clarity that up until now has been obscured by excessive bass. The horn section, which has been an embarrassment in several other recordings (again, no names, but Pittsburgh should really think about upgrading its brass section), was crisp, and clean. All the upper register instruments were favored in this recording, which allowed Brahms' playfulness and humor to come shining through. And never have I heard such finely crafted phrasing.
Last, but not least, this recording has what so many (just put any name here) have lacked - silence. Music cannot exist without silence, and Gardiner makes excellent use of dramatic breaks. Just listen to that first knock-your-socks-off sforzando of the last movement, the incredible rush of forward momentum created by taking rests seriously, and those final explosions of sheer punctuated fury and you will understand what I mean - or, better put, what Brahms meant.
The clichéd adjective for the Brahms Second is "cheerful," but Gardiner finds the shadows and melancholy that should revise that glib assessment. Brahms used orchestras ranging in size from 49 to 107 members; Gardiner's 62 seems like a happy medium, even if tuttis in the venerated Salle Pleyel of Paris (now supplanted by the new Philharmonie de Paris) are sometimes a bit congested. Consulting accounts of Brahms' opinions about conductors and the annotated scores of the ones he liked best, Gardiner steers his tempos between the rigid and the formless. Dividing first and second violins left and right, as was the 19th century practice, brings some advantages in revealing their interplay. Brahms preferred the mellower sound of the natural horns that Gardiner uses, although the composer might never have heard his symphonies performed with them, as the era's horn players were switching to the new rotary-valve instruments. Gardiner's accomplished section does well, especially in the opening passages of the second movement, whose execution is harder than it sounds; but the natural horns do not make the kind of difference here as in the Beethoven symphonies. After the symphony had been presented often enough for audiences to grow accustomed to it, Brahms sanctioned the omission of the first movement's exposition repeat. As might be expected, however, Gardiner keeps the repeat intact. For me, that makes the first movement too long -- in itself and in proportion to the remainder of the symphony -- but some aficionados will be pleased.
Gardiner evokes Mendelssohn and even Berlioz in the Scherzo, and what's most successful about this performance is that by the end, we've been brought closer to Schumann than to Mahler -- except for the oboe's "quotation" of the opening of the Mahler First at measure 214 of the Finale, seven measures before rehearsal letter K (4:53 in this recording). That isn't a quotation at all, of course, because Mahler's symphony wouldn't appear for another 12 years. In the Finale, hammering timpani briefly call up Haydn, growling trombones remind us of Berlioz. Before the blazing conclusion, Gardiner lets some of Brahms' syncopated rhythms get a little loose, but maybe such elasticity, that slight imprecision, is what Brahms had in mind. At any rate, Gardiner achieves his aim of providing context to listen to Brahms ... and that takes us back to the pieces that open the disc.
Being familiar with memorable recordings of the 1869 Alto Rhapsody by Janet Baker and Kathleen Ferrier and Christa Ludwig, I was caught off guard here by the most effective and affecting performance I've heard, by Nathalie Stutzmann. Partly that's because she's a genuine contralto instead of a mezzo; partly it's because Stutzmann is simply a wonderful singer. I was also, as never before, reminded of the opening of Wagner's "Siegfried" in Brahms' eerie, chromatic orchestral setting of the forest wilderness -- although "reminded" is another anachronism because Wagner's opera wasn't performed until 1876. Cadences toward the close of the Rhapsody come from the same sound world as Brahms' German Requiem, completed the previous year. And like the agnosticism of the Requiem, the Rhapsody offers only possible -- not certain -- consolation for the suffering soul.
Brahms' choral orchestrations of two Schubert lieder are less captivating. It's ironic that a choral setting of "Gruppe aus dem Tartarus" (Group from Hades) is less terrifying than a solo singer's, but after you've heard Thomas Hampson growl "Horch" at the outset in Graham Johnson's Schubert series The Hyperion Schubert Edition 14 / Thomas Hampson, Graham Johnson, nothing less will do. Brahms' orchestration intrigues, though, by again pre-echoing "Siegfried." The accompaniment to the torment of the souls in hell bears a strong resemblance to Mime's nightmare about being attacked by The Ring's dreaded dragon Fafner.
The disappointment here is Schubert's "Gesang der Geister über den Wassern" (D714), the most neglected of that composer's masterworks, which shares with Brahms an essential spirituality that shuns religiosity. After discarding four attempts to set Goethe's mystical poem, Schubert arrived at an unconventional solution -- four tenors and four basses accompanied by two violas, two cellos, and a double bass. Most recordings augment those forces with a large choir and chamber orchestra, destroying Schubert's precariously intimate balance, and that's what Gardiner does in this case. His first recording, which uses the lineup Schubert designated, is preferable Schubert: Voices in the Night- Choral Works, as is a 1977 rendition conducted by Gus Anton, issued on CD by Koch in 1991 Volume. 1-Part Songs for Men's Ch, that takes Schubert's "Molto adagio" marking seriously.
Gardiner's presentation of the Second Symphony is a valuable contribution to our understanding of Brahms, and if I still prefer Karl Böhm's 1975 recording with the Vienna Philharmonic (which omits the first movement exposition repeat and sounds terrific in its Japanese SHM-CD remastering Karl Bohm / Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra - Complete Symphonies : Bohm / Vienna Philharmonic (3CDS) [Japan LTD SHM-CD] UCCG-90294), then please forgive me for being an old fuddy-duddy. If you want a top-notch recording with the exposition repeat included, try Giulini's 1980 recording with Los Angeles Brahms: Symphony No.2 in the Japanese SHM-CD issue. This Salle Pleyel disc is a keeper for Stutzmann's Alto Rhapsody alone, and the bulk of the liner notes -- a conversation between Gardiner and composer Hugh Wood -- makes for provocative and informative reading. The concert performances are presented without applause that might interfere with the home listening experience for some buyers.