Riccardo Chailly

Brahms: Serenades

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Recordings of Brahms' two serenades from the late 1850s are sparse compared with those of the symphonies, perhaps because they're sometimes depicted as preparatory exercises for the mighty four. But they're really not that; they're light works that stand on their own, imbued with the spirit of Classicism, especially that of Haydn, and anyone who loves Brahms knows that his light works are no less profound than his weighty ones. The Serenade No. 1 in D major, Op. 11, is in six movements; the Serenade No. 2 in A major, Op. 16, in five, with each containing both a scherzo and a minuet. That little contrast is key to both the elegance of craft in these works and to the beauty of the readings here by conductor Riccardo Chailly, leading the venerable Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig. Nowhere does Chailly try to push these works toward the Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68, or even the contemporaneous Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15. Instead he takes them as they are, making them as transparent as possible, letting them breathe and giving them a relaxed, almost joyous quality that does not foreclose the discovery of small details. It may seem surprising to some that musicians as established as Chailly and the Gewandhaus players, who must have performed these works since their teen years, can manage such seemingly spontaneous readings, but there you have it. This is superior early Brahms.

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