Notes and Editorial Reviews
Serenade No. 1. Variations on a Theme by Haydn.
: Nos. 1,3,10
Robin Ticciati, cond; Bamberg SO
TUDOR 7183 (SACD: 68:28)
Is Robin Ticciati Britain’s Gustavo Dudamel? Time will tell. Younger than Dudamel by two years, the 29-year-old Ticciati is reported to have had no formal training in conducting but was mentored by Colin Davis and Simon Rattle. His first appearance with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in 2008 created such
a buzz that he was offered the ensemble’s post of principal conductor the following year, and his contract has been extended through 2015. Meanwhile, in 2009, he was appointed principal guest conductor of the Bamberg Symphony, a contract that runs concurrent with his Scottish engagement.
While Dudamel has landed a contract with Deutsche Grammophon and chalked up some 20 recordings of diverse repertoire with a number of different orchestras, including three or four with his Los Angeles Philharmonic, Ticciati has thus far, I believe, produced only two CDs, both for Tudor and both devoted to Brahms. He may also be found deep within a set of 33 DVDs of Mozart’s complete operas, leading a performance of
Il sogno di Scipione
. Ticciati’s previous Brahms album, containing a number of the composer’s works for chorus and orchestra, received a lukewarm reception from Henry Fogel in
While Brahms is hardly the exclusive territory of any one conductor, it does strike me a bit unusual that one as young and relatively unseasoned as Ticciati should choose Brahms, of all composers, for his first two major outings on disc. I will say, though, that choosing the Haydn Variations and the Serenade No. 1 is probably a safer bet than if he’d gone with one of the symphonies. Both works are relatively easygoing and of a sunnier disposition than are some of Brahms’s heavier orchestral works.
The somewhat lighter character of the music, however, tends to conceal much of its compositional cleverness and complexity. The Haydn Variations is an enduring testament to Brahms’s mastery of variation technique, and, as a bonus, it’s richly endowed with a wealth of the composer’s most warmhearted melodic and harmonic invention. The piece responds best, I think, to a noninterventionist approach, one in which the conductor takes the letter of the score as his guide and allows the music to speak for itself, and that is exactly what Ticciati does.
His tempos in the moderately paced movements amble along at a comfortable gait, while the faster-paced movements are fleet, agile, and very cleanly articulated. Of slow movements, one could say, based on Brahms’s tempo indications, that there really aren’t any—variation IV, marked
Andante con moto
, being the slowest of the lot. Ticciati takes it a bit slower than I think was probably intended, but he’s in good company, for many, if not most, conductors like to savor Brahms’s gorgeous invertible counterpoint in this movement. I particularly like Ticciati’s way with variation VII, marked
. It has a lissome lilt to it that feels just right.
Overall, this is a very enjoyable Haydn Variations that I’d place on a par with the very best of them, among which my longtime favorite, though dating back to 1958, is the one with Eduard van Beinum and the Concertgebouw Orchestra. I still own it on a mono Epic LP, but I note that it has been transferred to CD.
Brahms’s D-Major Serenade has a rather complicated history, one that has been fully set out in previous reviews, so I won’t rehash it here. Suffice it to say that the composer seems to have been conflicted as to whether his First Serenade was in fact a serenade or a symphony, and indeed, he himself referred to it as “my symphony-serenade.” One can understand his bafflement over the identity of this child to which he’d given birth. Its serenade personality expresses itself in the character of the music, much of which sounds rustic and folksy, and also in its six-movement layout. But the symphony personality finds its outlet in Brahms’s large-scale, fully developed sonata-allegro first movement and in the lengthy Adagio that unfolds by means of intensive motivic development.
This duality presents conductors with a bit of a dilemma. Does one approach the work as a pure serenade or as a “symphony-serenade,” as Brahms called it? There’s no question about where Ticciati stands; he leads the piece as if it were Brahms’s Symphony No. 0, and it’s quite an ear-opener, for one hears in this performance some of the very thematic and rhythmic ideas, and the way in which they’re orchestrated, that would find their way into the Second Symphony of 17 years later.
This is a most impressive reading, one that I have to say edges out my previous favorites by Leonard Slatkin leading the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and by Michael Tilson Thomas leading the London Symphony Orchestra. I should also mention that Tudor’s sumptuous, multichannel SACD recording contributes not insignificantly to my positive reaction.
Ticciati fills out his program with the only three of Brahms’s
—Nos. 1, 3, and 10—that the composer orchestrated himself. With two Brahms discs now under his belt, I wonder if Ticciati and Tudor are planning a run of the rest of Brahms’s orchestral works. Based on this release, I hope so. Strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Serenade no 1 in D major, Op. 11 by Johannes Brahms
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1857-1858; Germany
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