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Brahms: Symphony No. 2

London Philharmonic Orchestra , Marin Alsop , Johannes Brahms Audio CD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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1. Allegro Non Troppo
2. Adagio Non Troppo
3. Allegretto Grazioso, Quasi Andantino
4. Allegro Con Spirito
5. No.1 In G Minor
6. No.3 In F Major
7. No.10 In F Major
8. No.17 In F-Sharp Minor
9. No.18 In D Major
10. No.19 In B Minor
11. No.20 In E Minor
12. No.21 In E Minor

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Symphonie n°2, op.73 - Danses hongroises / London Philharmonic Orchestra, dir. Marin Alsop

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By J Scott Morrison TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Audio CD
First a couple of stories about the writing of the Brahms Second Symphony. He began it in his first summer at a retreat on Lake W'örth in southern Austria where, he said 'Melodies are so abundant you have to be careful not to step on them.' Certainly, in this symphony he scooped up numbers of them. He must have been in an exuberant mood as he was composing it because he twitted his notoriously prim and humorless musical friend, Elizabeth von Herzogenberg, by writing her that the symphony was basically just a series of F minor chords played first ff and then pp, the joke being that there is not a single F minor chord in the symphony. It is in sunny D major. Some have called the Second Brahms's 'Pastoral' Symphony.

This performance led by Marin Alsop reminds me of a couple of recordings that I know and love well, those by Kurt Sanderling and the Dresden Staatskapelle and by, of all people, Otto Klemperer and the Philharmonia. Largely this is because she takes a leisurely approach that simply revels in the harmonic luxuriance of all four movements, never rushing, never forcing the drama (as in the climaxes of the first movement) but letting the music speak for itself without artificially added histrionics. She is aided immensely by the London Philharmonic's masterly playing. The strings are positively silken; their tone seems to have, particularly in the slower legato sections, an added depth of dark chocolaty tone. The horns, particularly the solo horn, are equally rich and dark. The other winds sound appropriately Germanic, even though this is an English orchestra; I wonder if that is a conscious decision on their part? The brasses, especially the trombones, are mellow but still dramatic when need be.
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Genial Brahms Second in a Fine Expansive Performance Oct. 11 2005
By J Scott Morrison - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
First a couple of stories about the writing of the Brahms Second Symphony. He began it in his first summer at a retreat on Lake Wörth in southern Austria where, he said 'Melodies are so abundant you have to be careful not to step on them.' Certainly, in this symphony he scooped up numbers of them. He must have been in an exuberant mood as he was composing it because he twitted his notoriously prim and humorless musical friend, Elizabeth von Herzogenberg, by writing her that the symphony was basically just a series of F minor chords played first ff and then pp, the joke being that there is not a single F minor chord in the symphony. It is in sunny D major. Some have called the Second Brahms's 'Pastoral' Symphony.

This performance led by Marin Alsop reminds me of a couple of recordings that I know and love well, those by Kurt Sanderling and the Dresden Staatskapelle and by, of all people, Otto Klemperer and the Philharmonia. Largely this is because she takes a leisurely approach that simply revels in the harmonic luxuriance of all four movements, never rushing, never forcing the drama (as in the climaxes of the first movement) but letting the music speak for itself without artificially added histrionics. She is aided immensely by the London Philharmonic's masterly playing. The strings are positively silken; their tone seems to have, particularly in the slower legato sections, an added depth of dark chocolaty tone. The horns, particularly the solo horn, are equally rich and dark. The other winds sound appropriately Germanic, even though this is an English orchestra; I wonder if that is a conscious decision on their part? The brasses, especially the trombones, are mellow but still dramatic when need be.

The little fugue, begun by the horn with a tiny phrase from the main cello melody in the second movement (one of Brahm's loveliest movements, in my opinion) is done with grace but is incisive as well. For many conductors it is in this slightly awkward movement that they have difficulty. Alsop lets it all unfold naturally and there is no sense of effort; as well, the dense contrapuntal writing and the imaginative rhythmic offsets are underlined to just the right degree. The third movement's relaxed scherzo, based on peasantish dance rhythms, is genially done and prepares us for the fourth movement's quick and dramatic alternations of a plethora of themes, including - typical of Brahms finales - a Hungarian (read 'gypsy') strain. A trombonist friend says he loves Brahms's use of his instrument in this finale, and indeed the burnished sound of the trombones adds to the movement's fiery finish.

This is a superior performance of the Second and is worthy to stand beside any version currently available.

For lagniappe we have orchestral versions of eight of Brahms's Hungarian Dances (Nos. 1, 3 and 10 orchestrated by Brahms; Nos. 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21 orchestrated by Dvorák), all played with Schwung and piquancy by Alsop and her band. Aren't we all glad that Brahms made that early tour accompanying the Hungarian violinist Eduard Reményi and developed his undying taste for gypsy music?

An easy, even urgent, recommendation.

Scott Morrison
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A delightful new account Nov. 2 2005
By Cat Nation - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Though not a revelatory version of the 2nd, Alsop's presentation sweeps along beautifully and shimmers in all the right places. Perhaps she meanders a bit in the Adagio, but I find much to relish in Alsop's pacing and lyricism. This is a nice new version of one of my favorite (perhaps my favorite) symphonies, and I have revisited it several times. If you love Brahms, I think you will find much to enjoy in this new recording!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A decent interpretation Sept. 16 2010
By Alex - Published on Amazon.com
Alsop provides an extremely clear reading of the score. The balance and delineation between the separate stages of exposition and development in the first movement was impressive. The tempos are appropriately ponderous, and I have never so well appreciated the tonal continuity between this work and the Clarinet Quintet.

(I agree with some previous reviews, that this interpretation may not be suitable to someone looking for a racy interpretation. But I strongly dislike Karajan's interpretation of this particular symphony. To readers looking for a more exciting interpretation I also recommend Eugen Jochum on DG).
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Alsop & LPO: Mellifluous Brahms is Hearty Musical Fare Dec 23 2006
By drdanfee - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
I approached this second disc in the Marin Alsop series on Naxos with some caution, given my mixed reactions to the first symphony on SACD, as well as some of the down sides of the comments the Amazon posted reviewers have made. My objections to the Alsop First Symphony involved mostly the dislocated sonics that came from using that markedly unwise venue, the Watford Colosseum. I like Alsop's approach to the composer well enough to actually wish to be able to hear it, well. Her tendencies to bring out Brahm's polyphony without unraveling the larger melodic/harmonic forward motion only makes sound and aural staging more pertinent concerns. So as a happy starting note, one can see this Second Symphony has been recorded in another, much better venue, London's Blackheath Concert Hall. Catching this break, one immediately wishes we had another go at SACD. (So I waited and waited before trying this second out. What is Naxos thinking these days? Do any of the company people actually listen to their own catalog?) On the disc filler of eight of the orchestrated version of the Hungarian Dances, we return to the Watford. Oh well, give that venue another chance I suppose, so long as it doesn't get to sabotage one's potential enjoyment of the Second Symphony.

My steadfast standard in the second has involved an old, wonderful stereo recording, led by Pierre Monteux with the Vienna Philharmonic. Some day it may get remastered again, and if Universal Classics lets Sony BMG lead the way, we might even get an SACD hybrid disc like the BMG Living Stereo series.

Other touchstones have of course included some big and some not so big players: Haitink & the Concertgebouw, Bohm with Vienna, the last Gunter Wand set with the North German Radio Orchestra, Sir Adrian Boult with the LPO/LSO, Dohnanyi with Cleveland, Levine with Vienna, Mackerras in Scotland, Marek Janowski with Liverpool, and the younger Thomas Sanderling with London's Philharmonia. Old masters have lasted, like Kurt Sanderling, Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer, George Szell.

Right from the start, Marin Alsop adopts a flowing, moving tempo, nevertheless consistent with the gemutlichkeit essence of the opening melody and orchestral texture. I find myself mystified by the reviewers that complained of her tempo being too slow to serve this music. Of course I like my Brahms slow, provided the conductor and players plan to do something with all the music going on, like the Sanderlings, say, or Pierre Monteux. So far as I can hear, her approach to the second reminds me of her way with the first. She is adept at balancing the three sides of this complex composer, the Late Romantic Brahms who is so full of deep humanistic emotion, the music scholarly Brahms who learned his polyphony from studying all the old Medieval and Baroque masters, and the futurist Brahms whom Schoenberg much admired. By the time the work ends, I realize she has finished things as well as she began them. It probably doesn't hurt that the LPO has a strong history of its own in this composer's oeuvre.

Then we jump suddenly into the Watford Colosseum which still has all the recorded sonic deficiencies I nagged about in my review of the first symphony. It is not awful sound, just terribly displaced and floating disembodied in that great space, a bit like elevator music written larger than life by some close-up magic that quickly earns my ear's worry. If you like the Hungarian Dances as background music, and you are not listening for too much in that music, you will probably sail right on through your day.

The Third Symphony is due out, soon. I hope it avoided the Watford. I hope it continues to show the gifts of conductor and band, as the first two discs have done. Will we ever get these in super audio? Naxos?
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not quite a Klemperer, Boult, Walter, Szell, or Abbado March 9 2013
By John J. Puccio - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Alsop's reading is a very tight, cozy, safe-sounding one that should play well over the years, radiant and amiable, with plenty of lyrical sentiment expressed throughout. Comfy sound, too.

John J. Puccio
Classical Candor
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