Brahms: Serenades 1 & 2 (CD review)

Andreas Spering, Capella Augustina. CPO 777 300-2.

You'll recall that because of Beethoven's long shadow, Brahms had a hard time writing the first of his symphonies, and people suppose he rather sneaked up on the subject via the two Serenades of the late 1850s, his "symphonies in disguise" as some people have called them.

Yet he intended the Serenade No. 1 as a small chamber piece for nine instruments before he scored it for a full orchestra. Now, it's the match for any orchestral material the man produced, and it predated the première of his symphonic output by nearly twenty years. The Serenade No. 1 sounds, in fact, like a symphony. However, like most serenades, it's gentle, lyric, and cheerful. And it is a fairly long work of its kind, a little over forty-five minutes, but never less than delightful, the composer stringing together a seemingly never-ending series of charming melodies.

The Serenade No. 2 is shorter, about half the length of No. 1, and slightly less outgoing, with no violins involved; and it, too, has its appeals, not the least of which is its chamber-music quality. Both works, especially the Second Serenade, harken back to a kind of Viennese classicism that works to charming effect.

I mention the chamber-work qualities of both works because the Capella Augustina is a chamber group of about two dozen players who perform on period instruments. So that's one of this recording's claims to fame--that and its delightful phrasing and melodic interpretation. The result, done up in warm, ultrasmooth, highly natural sonics, is a more immediate performance than we're used to, more intimate, and maybe a touch more winsome than most big-scale readings. Certainly, the disc is worth investigating by anyone interested in these two pieces.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa