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Paul L Althouse
American Record Guide, July 2011

Jansons’s level of detailing is impressive

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Peter Quantrill
Gramophone, June 2011

Big Bavarian performances of Brahms’s middle two symphonies

One record guide recently placed Mariss Jansons’s Oslo Philharmonic recording of the Third at the top of the heap but sceptics should turn to this new version to hear how close an affinity he has with this difficult piece. What may appear to be refined restraint in the articulation of the first movement’s F-A-F pays off in a superbly calibrated account of the finale (restrained in different ways: a remarkably consistent minim=80, where Gardiner takes a more flexible, sometimes headlong minim=93) that faces into the storm head-on before eventually finding that F-A-F has been flowing like a deep-sea current all the while, though the playing at the start of the coda conveys a moving sense of the symphony brought to shore on the very frailest of barques. No applause breaks the spell.

The tenderly songful account of the Second betokens no less intimate a connection between Jansons and the players. Every beat is distinctly placed, which can make this symphony’s many offbeats unduly predictable, and the episodes of the second movement succeed one another as if laid before us in a Poussin panorama of the seasons. I like very much the kinks in the phrasing of the Allegretto but I wish he had pressed on (or not held back) at the start of the first movement’s development section. Again, though, Jansons has taken the long view. The finale has a huge, rustic energy, like a Jamaican sprinter who has peaked at the right time for the big race. These are big performances in every sense of the word.

Michael Cookson
MusicWeb International, May 2011

The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under their chief conductor Mariss Jansons have recorded live performances of two of Brahms’ symphonies presented here in splendid DSD/SACD sound for the BR Klassik label.

Brahms completed his Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73 in 1877, just one year after his First. It was produced quickly, mainly during a summer holiday in Pörtschach on Wörthersee Lake, Austria, a favourite holiday destination of Brahms. He completed the score in Lichtenthal near Baden-Baden. Brahms modestly wrote to a friend, “I don’t know whether I have a pretty symphony. I must inquire of learned persons!” It was Hans Richter who conducted the première in Vienna with the Philharmonic in 1877. The four movement score is occasionally referred to as Brahms’ ‘Pastoral’.

In Jansons’s reading the symphony radiates open-air contentment. Containing an abundance of romantic expression the opening movement offers textures that have sufficient buoyancy and tempi that never feel heavy or dragging. A slightly more serious side is displayed in the brooding slow movement. Courteous and compassionate, the third movement contains some remarkable playing especially from the glowing woodwind. I loved the early Presto ma non assai passage for strings playing leggiero. In the closing movement there’s a sense of Alpine freshness to Brahms’ glowing scoring. Jansons ends proceedings in a majestic manner with trumpets and trombones finally letting loose in full glory in the last few measures.

It was six years before Brahms commenced work on his Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90. This four movement score was written mainly in the southwest German spa town of Wiesbaden in the summer of 1883. That same year the première was given in the Vienna Musikverein at a Vienna Philharmonic concert under Hans Richter who described the score as ‘Brahms’s Eroica’.

The opening movement of the Third here exudes a remarkably heroic feel. I was struck by the bold and surging pulses of energy produced. The assured Jansons is relaxed throughout the warm and congenial second movement—so evocative of a Wiesbaden summer. Tenderness personified—as if the music is floating on air—could easily describe Jansons way with the harmonious and affectionate third movement. The concluding movement contains writing of tension and of vacillation with Jansons maintaining an air of mystery from start to finish even when all the reserves of energy are exhausted.

…these are excellent performances. They certainly rank up there amongst the finest available versions. These are live recordings but I was generally unaware of any audience presence. I’m not quite sure what a section from J.M.W. Turner’s oil painting ‘The Burning of the House of Lords and Commons’ is doing on the front cover of the booklet.

Kevin Sutton
MusicWeb International, April 2011

Brahms presented his Second Symphony in 1877, only one year after the first. It is the result of a summer retreat in Pörtschach on the Wörthersee which proved to be enormously peaceful and productive. And yet, despite these happy circumstances, Brahms warned future listeners that his new symphony was laden with melancholy. This is hard to believe upon listening to the music, which is arguably some of the sunniest and most hopeful of the composer’s output. The Second Symphony received a triumphant first performance in Vienna on 30 December 1877 under Hans Richter’s able baton. Vienna’s most formidable critic Eduard Hanslich was effusive with praise, declaring that Brahms’ new symphony was “incontrovertible proof” that symphonies could still be written after Beethoven.

The second is a work that is full of sunshine. With its gorgeous double theme beginning in the cellos and basses, followed by a lovely response from the horns, the strings soon take over with a counter-theme that is reminiscent of a lullaby. The beautiful slow movement is followed by lilting third, and the symphony ends with a joyous finale.

Mariss Jansons evokes an enormous and rich tone from the Bavarian Radio Symphony. He chooses tempos that both convey the profundity of the music while never letting it bog down or die on the vine. Balances are of the first order and the string tone is so warm and vibrant that it practically glows. More and more compact disc releases are live recordings from concerts instead of “studio” recordings with multiple takes and fixes. That so many of these recordings come out sounding so superb is both a testament to the quality of orchestral playing around the world, and a compliment to the recording industry for finding a way to keep classical music coming to us while still minimizing the enormous cost of recording a symphony orchestra.

Brahms’ Third is a far different animal from the Second. Although cast in the happy, pastoral key of F major, this is a work that is full of pathos. Of particular merit is the mysterious third movement with its haunting minor key theme. Branford Marsalis was later to take this marvelous melody and turn it into the basis for a fascinating jazz piece on his album “The Beautiful Ones are Not Yet Born.” Again Jansons captures all the range of emotions in this stormy work without ever letting the playing become overwrought.

With hundreds of fine recordings of these pieces available, it can be hard to justify yet another. These performances however, merit a spot in any collection. Whether this is your first experience with the music or your fiftieth, these are recordings that have exceptional merit.

Hank Zauderer
My Classical Notes, February 2011

For me the orchestral music is always a special treat. This is because I find that I identify with the spirit, the mood, the tranquility, and the spirituality that I often seek in music. Also, music for me is always connected with Nature, and Brahms painted Nature with his sounds like few musicians could ever do as well.

This CD was just released, and it provides the second and third symphonies, and performed beautifully by the Orchestra of the Bavarian Broadcasting Network, under Mariss Jansons.

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