Tuesday 14 March 2017

Youth Brahms in characterful performances from Jaime Martin & the Gävle Symphony Orchestra

Brahms Serenades - Gävle Symphony Orchestra, Jaime Martin - Ondine
Brahms Serenades; Gävle Symphony Orchestra, Jaime Martin; Ondine
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Mar 11 2017
Star rating: 3.5

Early Brahms in highly characterful performances from this Swedish orchestra

Brahms' First Symphony was not finished until 1876 (when the composer was 43), though he had started work in it in the 1850s. His two orchestral serenades date from the same period, youm man's music written when the composer was in his early 20s. On this new disc from Ondine, Jaime Martin conducts the Gävle Symphony Orchestra in Brahms's Serenade No. 1 in D major, Op.11 and Serenade No. 2 in A major, Op.16.

Founded in 1912, the Gävle Symphony Orchestra is based in Gävle, the largest city in East Sweden, Jaime Martin has been principal conductor since 2013. The orchestra, which numbers around 52 permanent musicians, is based in a new concert hall built in 1998. This disc is the first of a Brahms series the orchestra is making with Ondine, and a disc of Brahms cantatas is forthcoming.

From 1857 to 1859, Brahms spend the winters in the small principality of Detmold, and it was from this period that his two serenades date. The serenades were conceived partly in emulation of Mozart's works in the genre. Brahms was also working on the First Piano Concerto, and solicited advice regarding orchestration from Joseph Joachim, and Joachim advised to a certain extend on the serenades.

Serenade No. 1 was original written for chamber forces, wind and string octet but Brahms revised it for full orchestra and it is in this form which it is performed here. It is a long piece, lasting over 40 minutes and the length of the work, particularly the slow movement lasting over 10 minutes, may have been challenging for the original audiences.

The opening Allegro Molto starts off as lyrically pastoral but then explodes with energy in a performance which is vividly engaging. Bursting with energy, this is young man's music but we can hear Brahms' distinctive orchestral voice already. One of the things I enjoyed about the performances on the disc was the prominence of the wind in the balance, helped by some very fine wind playing. In the opening movement there are some vivid wind led moments. The first Scherzo is graceful and dance-like, and Martin makes it go with a nice swing. The Adagio non troppo is expansive, the music takes its time and the construction seems to wander a little. The wind are again noticeable, and play with a nice tang to the tone. The strings might lack the lushness of some orchestras, but they play with nice delicacy. The pair of minuets make a rather shorter movement, and in style they are more rumbustious than courtly dance but with a nice lilt to them, and the wind playing with a nicely pungent tone. The second Scherzo is similarly robust, whilst the find Rondo starts in a similar robust manner but develops with more relaxed lyrical moments.

Serenade No. 2 remains in its chamber orchestra version, with double woodwind but omitting violins, trumpets, trombones and percussion. Brahms revised the work in 1875. The Allegro moderato is lyrical, but by no means uncomplex. It receives a graceful performance with again a nicely pungent tang to the wind playing. The Scherzo is very much a country dance, played with engaging vitality. The Adagio is lyrically beautiful with moments of passion making the movement quite intense, with a lovely clarinet solo. Quasi menuetto flows gracefully with some lovely solo oboes, and the Rondo finale is crisply engaging.

Jaime Martin and the orchestra bring out the vivid contrasts in the music, and giving us a sense of Brahms' youthful vigour. Though for me, a little trimming would have been in order as some movements seem a little too expansive, in danger of rambling. What I liked about the performance was the way we get a very real sense of the orchestra's particular sound, with a lively but small-ish string section and the fine wind players to the fore, often with characterfully pungent tone.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) - Serenade No. 1 in D major, OP.11 [43.11]
Johannes Brahms - Serenade No. 2 in A major Op.16 [28.52]
Gävle Symphony Orchestra
Jaime Martin (conductor)
Recorded 18-22 May & 5-7 October 2015, Gävle Symphony Orchestra, Sweden
ONDINE ODE1291-2 1CD [72:33]
Available from Amazon.

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