The Second Symphonies of Beethoven and Brahms have little in common, really, beyond their basic symphonic format. Beethoven’s was written at Heiligenstadt in 1801-2; Brahms’s work is the most elegant and expansive of his four, dating from his mid forties. Jessica Duchen reviews this audiophile recording, available in FLAC and DSD.
The second symphonies of Beethoven and Brahms respectively make intriguing bedfellows on this release. They have little in common, really, beyond their basic symphonic format. Beethoven’s was written at Heiligenstadt in 1801-2, around the time of the crisis over his deafness that provoked the Heiligenstadt Testament, the devastating document addressed to his brothers in which he set out his physical and mental state of being; you would never guess, from this sunny and energetic music, that this was a man who was tempted to consider suicide.
Brahms’s work is the most elegant and expansive of his four, dating from his mid forties; perhaps its generous mood suggests a composer confident in his prime, no longer beset by the struggles that accompanied the protracted birth of his turbulent Symphony No.1. It’s worth remembering, though, that often the more effortless something seems, the more work it has taken, unseen…
The live performances by the Concertgebouw and Mariss Jansons eschew the continuing trend towards lean-and-mean “early music” performances of the Beethoven and even the Brahms (which dates from 1877) and stick to their up-front, luxurious style and long-lined musical architecture. The strings are heady-toned and radiant and the horns rounded and mellow, especially at the opening of the Brahms.
The Beethoven has tension and punch aplenty, though its undoubted charm is downplayed in favour of a somewhat earnest, unsmiling approach. The orchestra sounds more at home in the Brahms, which enjoys one of those radiant, expansive performances in which everything sounds effortless and flowing, even if that is happy illusion. All this takes place within the uniquely cushioned acoustic of the Concertgebouw itself. Even if these concert performances are not necessarily “benchmark” versions, they capture the orchestra and Jansons in very effective full flood.
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