Review by Scott September 27, 2006 (5 of 5 found this review helpful)
|The liner notes to other Pentatone Brahms/Vonk SACD state that, after being offered the opportunity to choose any work to record, Hans Vonk indicated that he now felt mature enough as a conductor (at 60+ years of age!) to tackle a complete cycle of the Brahms symphonies.
Such a self-effacing statement tends to run counter to a predominant paradigm of classical music conductors and performers in the last 20 years or so. It also reflects the attitudes of a man who was born in 1942 in wartime Amsterdam and "came of age" during an era when it was implicitly understood that maturity and authority as a conductor were the product of a decade or three of immersion in the masterworks of the symphonic repetoire.
So it's not really that surprising that this Brahms 2nd tends to favor an older-fashioned approach. Tempi remain on the slower side until the last movement, strings are emphasized at the expense of the brass, particularly the trumpets (who play at mezzo-piano throughtout the first three movements - Vonk appears to follow Bruno Walter's maxim that the trumpets should not be heard until the last several measures of the finale.) This is autumnal Brahms, the relaxed Brahms of the Worthersee, the lake whose pastoral calm served as inspiration for this work's composition. It's also well-played and extremely well-recorded, the venue being Studio 1 at Hilversum in The Netherlands. The exposition repeat is observed.
Sadly, Vonk's death in 2004 prevented the complete realization of this project under his leadership. Only the Second Symphony, the Haydn Variations, Alto Rhapsody, and the Academic Festival and Tragic Overtures were recorded. I would have enjoyed hearing the interpretative approach here applied to the 1st and the 4th Symphonies, where it might have worked to even greater effect. So far, Pentatone has not announced any plans to complete the cycle under different leadership.
Comparisons of this work to my benchmark performances (Karajan's last recording with the BPO and Walter's with Sony) reveal a slightly lower degree of intensity on the part of The Netherlands Orchestra under Vonk. That said, this recording is certainly a cut above average. So while not displacing the best, the disc can still be safely recommended to anyone.
Equipment: Yamaha SACD, Mirage Spkrs.
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