Brahms: Symphony No. 2 (CD review)

Also, Hungarian Dances. Marin Alsop, London Philharmonic Orchestra. Naxos 8.557429.

You know it must be an important disc when a low-cost label such as Naxos provides the jewel box with its own slipcover. You also know something's up when you get half a dozen press releases on the subject. Thus, it was with raised expectations that I sat down to listen to conductor Marin Alsop's rendering of Brahms's Symphony No. 2.

I'm not sure I should have gotten my hopes up quite so high because the performance turns out to be strongly Romantic but not spectacular. While I have never been an avid Brahmsian, I have always rather enjoyed his Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 73, with its pastoral moods and generally cheerful outlook. It provides a pleasant contrast to the darker, grander tones of the First Symphony. Not that the Second Symphony is all sweetness and light, as it does have its momentary elements of gloom, but it mostly begins and ends on a light, lyrical note, which Alsop conveys nicely in her interpretation.

Indeed, Alsop's reading is a very tight, cozy, safe-sounding one that should play well over the years, radiant and amiable, with plenty of lyrical sentiment expressed throughout. If I still think that past masters like Otto Klemperer (EMI), Adrian Boult (EMI), Claudio Abbado (DG), George Szell (Sony), and Bruno Walter (Sony) offer more in the way of idiosyncratic voice and expression, it doesn't mean I wouldn't want Alsop around for comfort, especially at so modest a price. Coupled with eight of Brahms's Hungarian Dances, comparably well performed, the disc is, in its own way, almost irresistible.

The sound is quite as comfortable as the performances, too, being warm and plush and cushy. However, in overall transparency the Naxos sonics don't match those on the Klemperer or Boult discs, recordings that are some thirty and forty years older than the 2005 Alsop disc. Oh, well, the Naxos record has a breadth of sound and a depth of image that make up for any minor lack of detail.

JJP

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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

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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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa