Brahms: Symphony No. 2 (CD review)
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.
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.