Notes and Editorial Reviews
John Eliot Gardiner's fresh take on Brahms' Symphony No. 2 is only partially about performing forces. The Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique's period-based proportions yield impressive ensemble clarity along with bracing instrumental timbres, most notably in the strings, which play sans vibrato. This has a curious effect in Brahms--compared to the accustomed buttery warmth produced by the Vienna Philharmonic or the Chicago Symphony, Gardiner's spare-sounding string band lends a certain curtness to the musical expression, especially so at the start of the slow movement, which here sounds more baroque than romantic. But this quality fits Gardiner's interpretation, with its moderately quick tempos and crisp phrasing. The orchestra's lively playing, most notably the woodwinds, makes Brahms' harmonies sing quite beautifully and makes you listen to the music with fresh ears. Only the finale breaks the spell--Gardiner's rather deliberate coda keeps the grand conclusion firmly on the ground.
The coupled Schubert choral works, of interest primarily to choral music aficionados, really don't add much to the program, although they do set the stage for Brahms' Alto Rhapsody, the opening of which interestingly has stylistic similarities to the Schubert pieces. Nathalie Stutzmann's dark, true-alto voice rings powerfully in the Rhapsody, while the Monteverdi Choir gives compelling performances throughout. Completing the package is recorded sound that's clear and detailed (with a slight emphasis on the high frequencies), fully complementing Gardiner's interpretive approach (especially that decidedly different Brahms Second!). A most welcome release.
--Victor Carr Jr, ClassicsToday.com