Brahms
Serenade No.2 in A, Op.16
Symphony No.3 in F, Op.90
London Symphony Orchestra
Bernard Haitink

Recorded in the Barbican Hall, London in May 2003 (Serenade) and June 2004
CD No: LSO LIVE LSO0056
Duration: 69 minutes
Reviewed: November 2004
The lightly if darkly scored Serenade (there are no violins) makes a mellifluous opener to Bernard Haitink’s third LSO Live volume of Brahms’s symphonies. Some beautifully judged woodwind playing is this performance’s signature, but occasionally the strings seem relegated in the balance, and the textures are just a little bright, a concomitant of the close recorded perspective. The sound will divide opinion, but its very tangibility is welcome, and the Serenade’s later movements seem better blended with some lovely crepuscular timbres from the lower strings to delight the ears. Haitink’s unaffected conducting of the third movement Adagio and the fourth movement minuet are particular highlights, the latter gently expressive. The finale goes with gusto with the piccolo adding a beam of light to dispel nocturnal musings. At no point was I troubled by the audience – and that’s not normal for any concert!
The audience is also noticeably ‘quiet’ in the symphony, maybe Brahms’s most personal and intimate in the genre, and which receives a reading of imposing grandeur, albeit the first movement’s flow is encumbered by the occasional sticky patch and over-emphasis. Ten seconds in, the violins (all grouped together on the left) are given a slight control-room manipulation of perspective, which will pall on repetition, but is not replicated when the exposition is repeated; and the recorded sound in the fullest tuttis is a little airless. Despite much beguiling detail, Haitink’s view of the first movement is just a little dogged and overly-objective; he relishes the architecture and makes appropriate expressive gambits, but his distending of some passages, particularly the one that heralds the recapitulation, is too static and not keenly enough felt to justify such diversion.
The middle movements, like the most intrinsic ones of the Serenade, are smoothly phrased, with pertinent tempos and an eloquence that is disarming; the quiet playing in the Andante is especially affecting. The succeeding Poco allegretto seems like a sigh of remembrance, and Haitink is especially successful in defining this movement’s very particular rhythmic shape. The finale is suitably restless, furtive even, with trenchant striving that is resolved with nobility and then distilled to a serene ending.
If the first movement is something of a problem, enough to make this rendition overall not definitive (as a colleague would put it), there is much that is memorable; certainly the modest outlay to purchase this CD makes it ‘another’ one of this music worth adding to the shelves.

 

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