Symphony No.2 in D, Op.73
Tragic Overture, Op.81
Netherlands Radio Symphony Orchestra
Recorded June 2003 in Hilversum, MCO Studio 1, The Netherlands
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: April 2005
CD No: PENTATONE CLASSICS
Duration: 59 minutes
The opening few bars, of what turns out to be a wonderfully sensitive performance of the symphony, do not auger well: there’s a noticeable edit at 0’06” as the horns enter and a studio noise at 0’10”. However, one is immediately drawn into a narration of this supposedly pastoral music that is most eloquently shaped, subtly detailed and harmoniously blended. Woodwinds have particular clarity, and their entwining with fibrous-sounding strings is a model of integration, the latter glowing when required but also with a tensile strength in the lower registers to add foundation and mettle; and Vonk knows where this music is going. His is an unforced, plain-speaking account that has about it a satisfying wholeness and purpose imbued with myriad colourful, dynamic and heartfelt touches.
Yet, that noise noticed at 0’10” also intrudes at 5’40”, just a few seconds in the exposition repeat. It’s the same take! Although there are countless examples of such ‘tricks’ throughout decades of recording, in this pristine digital age and given PentaTone’s very high production standards, such a method disappoints, not least for future listening.
Nevertheless, Vonk’s flowing and malleable conducting of maybe the Brahms symphony that can be returned to most often invests a fluid and intense Adagio, a beguiling Allegretto grazioso, and a trenchant and vital finale that doesn’t skimp on lightness or tripping rhythms. Occasionally there are some loose ends in terms of ensemble, but there is also a glowing, life-enhancing quality that may have been a leap of faith on the part of the already-ill Hans Vonk (who died on 29 August 2004 at the age of 62).
The Tragic Overture, which would have been better placed at the beginning of the CD, is driven but not rushed or pressured. The booklet-note writer’s assertion that this great work is “nowadays seldom played” seems exaggerated, if not plain wrong; Hans Vonk finds in it a human endeavour that is both uplifting and moving. The recorded sound is lucid and well balanced.