BRAHMS: Symphony No. 2 / Serenade No. 2 (Alexander Rahbari/ Belgian Radio and Television Philharmonic Orchestra/ Gunter Appenheimer) (Naxos: 8.550279)
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Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
Symphony No.2 in D Major, Op. 73
Serenade No.2 in A Major, Op. 16
In 1853 Robert Schumann detected in the young Brahms a man singled outto make articulate an ideal way of the highest expression of our time. Hereindeed was the long awaited successor to Beethoven, and Schumann was prepared,like some St. John the Baptist, to declare the fact. The "veiledsymphonies in sound" that Schumann had heard were not transformed intoreal symphonies until relatively late in Brahms' life. Much, after all, hadbeen expected of him, and this may explain in some measure his relativediffidence, his distrust of his own abilities.
Brahms was born in Hamburg in 1833. His father was a musician, a doublebass player, and his mother a seamstress some 17 years older than her husband.
The family was poor, and as a boy Brahms earned money by playing the piano indockside taverns for the entertainment of sailors. Nevertheless his talentbrought him support, and teaching from Eduard Marxsen, to whom he laterdedicated his B flat Piano Concerto, although claiming to have learned nothingfrom him.
After a period earning a living in Hamburg as a teacher and as a dancesaloon pianist, Brahms first emerged as a pianist and as a composer in 1853,when he went on a brief tour with the refugee Hungarian violinist Ede Remenyi,later to be appointed solo violinist to Queen Victoria. In Hanover he met thealready famous young virtuoso violinist Joseph Joachim and with the latter'sintroduction visited Liszt in Weimar. The later visit to Schumann inD??sseldorf, again brought about through Joachim, had more far-reaching results.
Schumann was soon to suffer a mental break-down, leading to his death in 1856in an asylum. Brahms became a firm friend of Clara Schumann and remained sountil her death in 1896.
The greater part of Brahms' career was to be spent in Vienna, where hefinally settled in 1863, after earlier seasonal employment at the small courtof Detmold and intermittent periods spent in Hamburg. In Vienna he establisheda pattern of life that was to continue until his death in 1897. He appeared asa pianist, principally in his own compositions, played with more insight thanaccuracy, and impressed the public with a series of compositions of strength,originality and technical perfection. Here was a demonstration that, contraryto the view of Wagner or Liszt, there was still much to be said in thetraditional forms of music. Beethoven's NinthSymphony was not the last word. Critics, indeed, hailed Brahms' FirstSymphony in 1876 as Beethoven's Tenth.
Brahms came to occupy a unique position in Vienna, his eccentricities and grufftactlessness tolerated as Beethoven's had been, his musical achievementunquestioned, except by the fanatical supporters of Wagner.
If Brahms' First Symphony seemed to stem from Beethoven's Ninth, the Second Symphony appears to have its origin in Beethoven'sPastoral Symphony. The critic Eduard Hanslick, the self-appointed champion ofBrahms and firm opponent of the 'Wagner-Liszt household", found in thework "Serene cheerfulness, at once manly and gentle, animated alternatelyby pleased good humour and reflective seriousness". The symphony wasstarted during Brahms' summer holiday at Portschach on the Worthersee in 1877.
Brahms' friend, the surgeon Theodor Billroth, playing through the symphony onthe piano, found in it all the natural beauty of the place. The work wascompleted at Lichtenthai, near Baden-Baden, in the autumn, and given its firstperformance at the end of Decernber by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra underHans Richter.
The first movement proclaims its mood at the very opening, an air ofpastoral serenity, including in its scope a contrapuntal development and amoment or two of Mendelssohn, but never in any way what Brahms had ironicallyoffered his publisher, a work of darker hue, but gently meditative rather thantragic. It leads to a Scherzo of grace and charm, set off by two interruptionsin a duple-time Presto. In the veins of the last movement Hanslick diagnosedthe blood of Mozart. The music, at times robustly cheerful, is rather more thanthat, an example of the composer's masterly command of contrapuntal techniques.
It maintains, in spite of the occasional cloud, a mood that Hanslick summed upas redolent of "the spring blossoms of the earth".
The Second Serenade in A major, Opus16, was written during the period that Brahms spent in Detmold,completed in 1859 and given its first public performance in Hamburg in February1860. It is scored for wind instruments and lower strings, without violins, andwas published in the same year. Brahms made a four-hand piano arrangement ofthe work, a task that gave him considerable delight, as he confided to Joachim,and revised the orchestral score of the Serenade in 1875. The first of the fivemovements entrusts its first subject to clarinets and bassoons in thirds, theformer announcing the second subject, accompanied by plucked strings. A livelyG major Scherzo is followed by an A minor Adagio in which Clara Schumann detecteda liturgical solemnity, finding in the following Quasi Menuetto movementsomething of the quality of Haydn. A colourful Rondo brings the Serenade to anend.
BRT Philharmonic Orchestra, Brussels
The history of the BRT Philharmonic Orchestra, Brussels goes back tothe birth of the Belgian Radio in the 1930s. After the well-known musicologistand promoter of contemporary music, Paul Collaer, had become head of the MusicDepar1ment of the Belgian Radio, the orchestra, under its conductor FranzAndre, gained a world-wide reputation for its interpretations of the latestcompositions of Stravinsky, Berg, Bartok, Hindemith and other 20th centurycomposers. The orchestra gave the first. European performance of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra in Paris and thefirst West European performance of the Fourth Symphony by Shostakovich, andhas, over the years, worked with many leading conductors, from Pierre Boulez,Paul Hindemith and Darius Milhaud to Lorin Maazel and Zubin Mehta.
In 1978 the Radio Symphony Orchestra was dissolved and both the Flemishand the French Radio divisions set up their own symphony orchestras. TheFlemish network soon had a new orchestra, the BRT Philharmonic, with some 90musicians and Fernand Terby became its principal conductor from 1978 to 1988.
Since 1988, Alexander Rahbari has been the principal conductor and musicaldirector of the new BRT Philharmonic Orchestra.
Alexander Rahbari was born in Iran in 1948 and was trained as aconductor at the Vienna Music Academy as a pupil of von Einem, Swarowsky andOsterreicher. On his return to Iran he was appointed director of the TeheranConservatory of Music and took a leading position in the cultural developmentof his country. In 1977 he moved to Europe, winning first prize in the Besan9onInternational Conductors' Competition and the Geneva silver medal. In 1979 hewas invited by Herbert von Karajan to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestraand served as von Karajan's assistant in Salzburg. Rahbari's subsequent careerhas been highly successful, with concerts throughout the world and engagementsin leading opera-houses. He is Principal Guest Conductor of the CzechPhilharmonic Orchestra and has conducted major orchestras throughout Europe, inJapan and in Canada. Alexander Rahbari is now a citizen of Austria.