Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphonies: No. 2; No. 3
Marcus Bosch, cond; Aachen SO
COVIELLO COV 31206 (SACD: 68:32) Live: Aachen 12/2011
It has been five years since I enthused over Marcus Bosch’s Brahms First and Fourth Symphonies in 31:2, but the wait was worth it. Aachen (aka Aix-la-Chapelle) has long been known as a spa town, but its symphony orchestra and conductor may be among Germany’s best-kept secrets. Here is an ensemble that produces a sound tailor-made for Brahms—resplendent horns and trombones, lustrous, silky
strings, luminous winds, and resonant timpani.
Sticklers for repeats who were disappointed that Bosch skipped the exposition repeat in the First Symphony will be pleased to know that he observes the repeats in both the Second and Third Symphonies on the present disc. Tempos couldn’t be better judged. Bosch finds just the right gait for each movement, refusing to let the music drag. If one takes Brahms’s tempo indications seriously, there’s not a slow movement that’s really
in either of these scores; even the Adagio of the Second Symphony is qualified by a
. Bosch does take Brahms seriously, moving the Adagio along at a pace that allows its phrases to sing. His shaping of the cellos’ opening melody is glorious.
Coviello’s SACD sound gives the recording a real impact, especially in the climaxes, which are big, thrilling, and visceral. As far as I know, modern timpani sticks with felt heads are used, but the timpani are miked more prominently than usual, and their greater presence gives the impression that leather-headed sticks may have been used. Timpani parts in Brahms’s scores, except of course in forceful, dramatic moments, are often relegated to muffled, barely audible background rumblings. But you may not realize just how engaged the timpani are throughout these symphonies and how important their parts are until you hear this recording.
More conductors have come to grief over the Third Symphony than any of the other three. As liner note author Michael Dühn points out, “it’s the most compact and cohesive of the four Brahms symphonies. The four movements are clearly related to each other and closely connected motivically. Nevertheless, the work is anything but monotonous.” Actually, I would beg to differ with him. Motivic connections in the Fourth Symphony are even stronger. But the difference is that there’s more surface variety and contrast in the Fourth than in the Third. As a result, Brahms’s Third can, and sometimes does, sound monotonous in the hands of unresponsive conductors. Critics are known to complain about musical works that lack coherence, but one could say that Brahms’s Third has too much. The sense of sameness in tempos and textures across the four movements presents a real interpretive challenge to the conductor.
Bosch does something daring, perhaps not unprecedented, but still pretty risky, and it pays off. He adopts almost precisely the same underlying pulse for each movement, not straying much below 82 beats per minute or above 84. He assigns the beat as appropriate: (1) to the half note in the first movement, which is mainly in 6/4 (with an excursion into 9/4), making for a true
Allegro con brio
, as marked; (2) to the quarter note in the 4/4 second movement, satisfying Brahms’s
marking; (3) to the eighth note in the 3/8 third movement, lending it the called-for
lilt; and (4) again to the half note, this time in the 4/4 cut-time, fourth movement, conforming to the
To the best of my knowledge, Brahms provided metronome markings for only seven of his works—the concertos,
A German Requiem
, the First and Second Piano Trios (though only for the first movement of the Second Trio), and
. Unfortunately, as you can see, this list does not include the symphonies, so we don’t know how Brahms might have led the Third Symphony himself. To me, however, Bosch’s solution seems eminently logical and satisfying.
These performances go right to the top of my A-list, where they join Bosch’s First and Fourth Symphonies (if you can forgive the omitted repeat in the First) for a Brahms cycle well worth owning. Very strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 2 in D major, Op. 73 by Johannes Brahms
Aachen Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1877; Austria
Venue: Live Eurogress Aachen, Germany
Length: 40 Minutes 50 Secs.
Symphony no 3 in F major, Op. 90 by Johannes Brahms
Written: 1883; Austria
Venue: Live Eurogress Aachen, Germany
Length: 33 Minutes 8 Secs.
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