Friday, April 20, 2012

Sunday Classics preview: Sunny and mellow -- it's Brahms in the key of A


When you think of Brahms and the key of A major, it's hard not to think of the Second Symphony. Most of the gorgeous first movement is performed here by the Deutsch-Niederländiscshe Chamber Philharmonic conducted by Otis Klöber, in Emden, Aug. 17, 2008. (The movement is completed here, and the rest of the performance is also posted on YouTube.)

by Ken

No, we're not going to be listening to any more of the Brahms Second Symphony this week. We're turning our attention to another treasurable Brahms work in A major. And because it begins in strikingly unexpected fashion, we're going to start by hearing just the opening five bars, but in four very different performances.

[In the fifth bar, you'll note, the cello enters.]

Performances A, B, C, and D

The differences, especially among A, B, and C, are so clear that they hardly seem to require comment. A is fast, and I mean fast. And as lickety-split as A is, B is just as broad and spacious -- note the richness of just the little bit we hear of the cello entrance. On one point, though, the pianists of A and B generally agree: that the triplet notes between the strong downbeats remain generally separate. (To confuse matters, these notes are marked with slurs in some editions, like the one above, but not in others.). By contrast, the pianist in C really does slur the triplet notes -- and I don't think I'm giving away a state secret in revealing that as the string players join in, they do the same, as we'll hear in the click-through.

It's hard to divine any" label"-able interpretive quality to D. The piano-playing seems utterly simple and straightforward, not in the least show-off-y or fancily "expressive," and yet at the same time it's riveting -- inexplicably riveting. You may be surprised to find out who this pianist is. Or then again, you may not be.

Would it help to hear the four performance bits again? We can do that.

Performances A, B, C, and D



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