In the aftermath of Brahms’s Second – Peter Greer

I was thrilled to hear Janowski’s rendition of the Brahm’s Second Symphony last Friday night. It was a big occasion for our orchestra as it was the PSO’s first recording in many years and recorded live like the Shostakovich 8th they did for Mariss in the middle of his tenure as PSO music director. You could sense it was no ordinary concert as musicians arrived on stage unusually early to warm up, the entire horn section, in fact, rehearsing a passage from the Haydn Variations that came off splendidly I thought. The fact that Ron Schneider suddenly was taken ill put even more pressure on the horn section to play like the gods they are.

I talked to after the concert were looking forward to Sunday’s
performance as an opportunity to “fix” a few ensemble problems, but
otherwise felt the first performance a good one. Janowki’s interpretation is not close to Bruno Walter’s Viennese approach; rather, it is hard driving – almost Beethovian in its sweeping sense of destiny and power. The musicians I talked to after the concert felt the Finale was about the fastest they had ever played. Some felt it was perhaps played too fast, and details were lost as a result. But Mark Kanny assures me that there is precedence for the fast pace of the finale. To quote Kanny:


world premiere of Brahms Second Symphony, by the Vienna Philharmonic in
the Musikverein, is the only Brahms symphony for which there are
timings of a performance supervised by the composer!!!! (Hans  Richter was on the podium.) The timings are by minutes, with no seconds. The finale at the premiere was 8 minutes. Assuming rounding off, that means the performance could have been as long as 8 minutes 30 seconds.“ 

Guess what? Friday’s performance timed out at 8 minutes and 30 seconds whereas 9 minutes is more common. To quote Kanny again:


Janowski slowed very slightly for the second theme. It was the kind of
tempo adjustment Beethoven also wanted, and which he characterized as
being one that only musicians would notice. The Janowski/PSO
performance of the finale was very close to what I think Brahms

think that Janowki’s approach in the finale (very close to Brahms’s
conception Kanny would argue) worked both musically and dramatically. Because
it takes a great orchestra to pull it off, maybe that explains why the
finale is not usually  performed as this pace. I believe Janowski’s
interpretation of Brahms Second Symphony will stand out from the
crowded field of recordings of this work because Janowski has cleaned
the dust and varnish off of this masterpiece so that we can hear its
original colors again. Thanks Mark for your insight. Thank
you PSO musicians and Maestro for the rousing performance that will be
preserved in high definition surround sound for posterity to enjoy. I can hardly wait to hear Brahms First Symphony this weekend after the varnish has been removed. 

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