BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 / Serenade No. 1 (Alexander Rahbari/ Belgian Radio and Television Philharmonic Orchestra/ Gunter Appenheimer) (Naxos: 8.550280)
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Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Symphony No.3 in F Major, Op. 90
Serenade No.1 in D Major, Op. 11
Hans Richter, who conducted the first performance of Brahms's Third Symphony in Vienna in December,1883, referred to the work as the composer's Eroica,leading Eduard Hanslick to add that the FirstSymphony might be considered the Appassionata
and the Second the Pastoral. The enemies of Brahms werepredictably hostile. Hugo Wolf, a fervent Wagnerian, was to claim that therewas more intelligence and emotion in a single cymbal stroke by Liszt than inall the three symphonies of Brahms that had then appeared, while to Wagner andhis wife Cosima, Liszt's illegitimate daughter, Brahms was that rude, boorishman with his mediocre music. Wagner himself did not live to hear the Third Symphony, but nothing would havealtered his resentment at comparisons between Brahms and the inimitableBeethoven, whose rightful successor he considered himself to be.
In the summer of 1883 Brahms took rooms in the spa town of Wiesbaden,perhaps to be near the young singer Hermine Spies, his Hermione without an '0',whose musical abilities were to serve as inspiration for the Opus 96 and Opus97 songs. At the age of fifty Brahms seemed a confirmed bachelor, but hissister, at least, had heard rumours of an impending engagement with Hermine,who had made her debut at Wiesbaden the previous year. The affair came tonothing, although her Johannes Passion was to continue and Brahms himself wasdeeply moved by her death in 1893.
The Third Symphony openswith a brief figure played by the wind and this serves as a bass to the intenseemotion of the succeeding theme proposed immediately by the violins. A secondsubject, in A major, is introduced by the clarinet, accompanied by a stringdrone bass, offering a pastoral contrast to the grandeur of the first theme.
The opening motif reappears with particular poignancy played by the French hornin the central development, which closes with a richness of counterpointtypical of the composer. The C major slow movement allows clarinets andbassoons to predominate in the statement of the principal theme, the sameinstruments introducing a second theme, followed by oboe and French horn. Amoving cello theme in C minor starts the third movement, a world away from thetraditional lighthearted scherzo. There is a Trio section, its sombreimplications replaced by the return of the principal theme of the movementplayed by the French horn. The last movement, in which much of the argument ofthe symphony is concentrated, opens ominously, the mysterious initial activityof bassoons and strings, sotto voce, leading to a great storm of sound in whichthe composer shows all his power. The finale is massive in conception, endingnot with the defiance of a Beethoven but with a gentle recollection of thefirst movement.
The Serenade in D major, Opus 11,was written during the months Brahms spent at the court of Detmold, its periodof composition overlapping with that of the Serenade in A major. Like itscompanion it was published in 1860, the year of its first performance inHanover, although it seems that it had at least been played through in Detmoldin its original form as an octet by players from the orchestra, led by theviolinist Karl Bargheer. Clara Schumann, an influential advocate of Brahms atthis early stage in his career, insisted that the Serenade should be played ata benefit concert in Vienna in 1860, if she was to take part, and urged the twoSerenades on other influential conductors.
In six movements, largely following earlier tradition, the Serenadeowes something to Brahms's study of classical models. The surviving autographsuggests that the work was conceived as a symphony-serenade, and in length, atleast, it is ambitious. It starts in a happy pastoral mood, to which a moreominous strain is added, in the tones of Beethoven, before becomingrecognisably and unequivocally Brahms. The lilting first Scherzo, a contrast tothe substantial opening Allegro, touches a rustic mood in its trio section, andis followed by a slow movement of classical contour, in which that mostcharacteristic of all instruments used by Brahms, the French horn, has its dueprominence - otherwise classical in its scoring, the Serenade calls for fourFrench horns rather than the two horns of the earlier period. The first Minuetlightens the tranquil mood with a moment of peasant jollity, delicately scored,before the intervention of a more poignant element, against the continuingostinato accompaniment. The French horn introduces the second Scherzo, withmore than a touch of Beethoven in pastoral mood. A final Rondo brings theSerenade to an end.
BRT Philharmonic Orchestra, Brussels
The history of the BRT Philharmonic Orchestra, Brussels goes back tothe birth of the Belgian Radio in the 1930's. After the well-known musicologistand promoter of contemporary music, Paul Collaer, had become head of the MusicDepartment 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'sConcerto for Orchestra in Paris and the first West European performance of theFourth Symphony by Shostakovich, and has, over the years, worked with manyleading conductors, from Pierre Boulez, Paul Hindemith and Darius Milhaud toLorin 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 and?ûsterreicher. 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 Besan?ºonInternational 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.