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Brahms: Symphony No 2, Hungarian Dances / Alsop, London PO


Release Date: 10/11/2005 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8557429   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Marin Alsop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 5 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

An invigorating and very enjoyable reading of this fine symphony.

This is the second instalment in Marin Alsop’s ongoing Brahms cycle. Both its predecessor and this latest offering have been widely praised by colleagues. I’ve heard her both on radio and on disc in twentieth century repertoire but I’d yet to encounter her in "standard" repertoire so I was curious to hear her in Brahms and especially in what has long been my favourite of the four symphonies.

She immediately scores high marks with me for taking the exposition repeat in the first movement. This is not so often done. I can understand why conductors omit the repeat for there is an issue of structural balance. Taking the repeat
Read more elongates the first movement by some five minutes - in this performance - and thereby means that, in Ms Alsop’s hands, the first movement accounts for 20:05 of the 44:51 that she takes for the whole symphony. So there is a danger of imbalance but I must say I didn’t feel that this particular reading was unbalanced and, in any case, why wouldn’t one wish to hear such wonderful music twice? Also, omitting the repeat means that the first time bars must be left out and that’s a pity since the music they contain is well worth hearing, as Ms Alsop demonstrates.

In his good liner-note Robert Pascall rightly draws attention to the dark side of this movement. The Second is conventionally regarded as Brahms’s sunniest symphony and many conductors focus on that side rather than the darker element, which is mainly to be found in the development section. Marin Alsop, it seems to me, is one such and I don’t find that her interpretation brings out the dark side of the music. That’s not to disparage her reading in any way. A "sunny" approach is perfectly valid and, in any case, even if you appreciate a performance that hints at deeper waters, as I do, you may not want to hear such a reading every day. A couple of years ago, for example, I reviewed what I thought was an exceptionally unsettling account of this movement by Furtwängler. Tremendously impressive though that was, it wouldn’t do for everyday listening. No, it seems to me that Marin Alsop gives us a well-imagined and highly enjoyable rendition of this movement, one which is built on rhythmic vitality, warm phrasing and excellent attention to dynamics.

Ms. Alsop judges the start of the second movement beautifully, encouraging the celli to sing out. Later there’s excellent work by the LPO’s principal horn and, indeed, this is matched by the other wind soloists. Ms. Alsop clearly loves this music and under her guidance the strings phrase generously. She pays great attention to sustaining the musical line and this I like very much. In the central section of the movement there’s just the right amount of powerful projection before the return of the warm lyricism that characterised the opening paragraphs.

There’s some nice, pert wind playing at the start of the Allegretto and later the strings match their wind colleagues in agility. This movement is a fairly brief interlude in the overall scheme of things, a bit of a musical sorbet in fact. Here it receives a fresh and engaging reading.

Ms. Alsop catches well the mood of suppressed energy at the start of the finale. Once Brahms increases the volume she presses the music home splendidly, striking a balance between energy and lyricism that seems to me to be extremely well judged. The end of this ebullient movement is irresistibly jubilant here with the LPO brass, who have served their conductor well throughout the whole performance, well to the fore.

In summary, this is an invigorating and very enjoyable reading of this fine symphony. The LPO plays attentively and with commitment. On the evidence of this release, this Brahms cycle is not one that’s being made just for the sake of it but rather because Marin Alsop wanted to do it and has something definite to say about the music.

As a filler we’re offered eight of the Hungarian Dances, three of them in orchestrations by Brahms, the remainder in orchestral dress tailored for them by Dvo?ák. I have to confess that these pieces aren’t really my cup of tea but they are well done. In common with a lot of so-called light music these dances aren’t easy to do well. On this occasion the performances benefit from enthusiastic playing. Equally important is the fact that the dances are shaped affectionately by Marin Alsop, who displays a good, intuitive sense of rubato.

A most enjoyable disc which can be recommended confidently and enthusiastically.

-- John Quinn, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1. Symphony no 2 in D major, Op. 73 by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Marin Alsop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1877; Austria 
Venue:  Blackheath Concert Hall, London, England 
Length: 44 Minutes 51 Secs. 
Notes: Blackheath Concert Hall, London, England (03/21/2005 - 03/22/2005) 
2. Hungarian Dances (21) for Orchestra, WoO 1: no 1 in G minor by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Marin Alsop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1868; Austria 
Date of Recording: 07/28/2005 
Venue:  Watford Colosseum, Watford, England 
Length: 3 Minutes 24 Secs. 
3. Hungarian Dances (21) for Orchestra, WoO 1: no 3 in F major by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Marin Alsop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1868; Austria 
Date of Recording: 07/28/2005 
Venue:  Watford Colosseum, Watford, England 
Length: 2 Minutes 46 Secs. 
4. Hungarian Dances (21) for Orchestra, WoO 1: no 10 in F major by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Marin Alsop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1868; Austria 
Date of Recording: 07/28/2005 
Venue:  Watford Colosseum, Watford, England 
Length: 1 Minutes 52 Secs. 
5. Hungarian Dances (21) for Piano 4 hands, WoO 1: no 17 in F sharp minor by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Marin Alsop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880; Austria 
Date of Recording: 07/28/2005 
Venue:  Watford Colosseum, Watford, England 
Length: 3 Minutes 37 Secs. 
Notes: Arranger: Antonín Dvorák. 
6. Hungarian Dances (21) for Piano 4 hands, WoO 1: no 18 in D major by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Marin Alsop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1868-1880; Austria 
Date of Recording: 07/28/2005 
Venue:  Watford Colosseum, Watford, England 
Length: 1 Minutes 31 Secs. 
Notes: Arranger: Antonín Dvorák. 
7. Hungarian Dances (21) for Piano 4 hands, WoO 1: no 19 in B minor by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Marin Alsop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880; Austria 
Date of Recording: 07/28/2005 
Venue:  Watford Colosseum, Watford, England 
Length: 2 Minutes 38 Secs. 
Notes: Arranger: Antonín Dvorák. 
8. Hungarian Dances (21) for Piano 4 hands, WoO 1: no 20 in E minor by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Marin Alsop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880; Austria 
Date of Recording: 07/28/2005 
Venue:  Watford Colosseum, Watford, England 
Length: 2 Minutes 44 Secs. 
Notes: Arranger: Antonín Dvorák. 
9. Hungarian Dances (21) for Piano 4 hands, WoO 1: no 21 in E minor by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Marin Alsop
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1868-1880; Austria 
Date of Recording: 07/28/2005 
Venue:  Watford Colosseum, Watford, England 
Length: 1 Minutes 42 Secs. 
Notes: Arranger: Antonín Dvorák. 

Sound Samples

Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73: I. Allegro non troppo
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73: II. Adagio non troppo
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73: III. Allegretto grazioso, quasi andantino
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73: IV. Allegro con spirito
21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 (version for orchestra): Hungarian Dance No. 1 in G minor (orch. J. Brahms)
21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 (version for orchestra): Hungarian Dance No. 3 in F major (orch. J. Brahms)
21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 (version for orchestra): Hungarian Dance No. 10 in F major (orch. J. Brahms)
21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 (version for orchestra): Hungarian Dance No. 17 in F sharp minor (orch. A. Dvorak)
21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 (version for orchestra): Hungarian Dance No. 18 in D major (orch. A. Dvorak)
21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 (version for orchestra): Hungarian Dance No. 19 in B minor (orch. A. Dvorak)
21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 (version for orchestra): Hungarian Dance No. 20 in E minor (orch. A. Dvorak)
21 Hungarian Dances, WoO 1 (version for orchestra): Hungarian Dance No. 21 in E minor (orch. A. Dvorak)

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