. . . it's pleasing to have this excellent new recording from such an elite orchestra as the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig under its renowned Gewandhauskapellmeister Riccardo Chailly . . . [Brahms 1]: One soon realises how conscientiously the Milan-born Chailly has prepared his Gewandhausorchester which shows in a smoothly controlled and entirely sympathetic performance. Especially attractive is the opening "Allegro molto" starkly evocative of the sights and sounds of a sunlit Tyrolean countryside scene. The fourth movement "Menuetto I" and "Menuetto II" marry a chamber-like elegance with immense subtlety . . . [Brahms 2]: Chailly draws exquisite playing, enlivening the pulse and captivating the heart. I especially relished the sunny bucolic character of the inspired "Adagio" with its enchanting short passage for low strings. It's hard to imagine the Second Serenade being played better than this . . . The Decca sound is clear and the balance and presence realistic . . . Brahms's pair of orchestral Serenades could not receive greater advocacy than these entirely convincing readings.
. . . [Riccardo Chailly is a] magician among conductors . . . Bliss beckons immediately in the opening horn solo in the D major Serenade, Op 11, the first of several showcases for the mellifluously earthy Gewandhaus winds and brass. It's also obvious straight away that Chailly is conducting . . . Listen as well to the sinuous phrasings of its second subject: utterly Brahmsian, this, in a work newly revealed through Chailly's bright eyes as an essential bridge between the composer's past and future . . . Note for note, the mixture of musical history in both serenades is fascinating and delicious enough. When coloured and polished with Chailly's electrifying finesse, the results are beyond adorable. Nothing could be lovelier than the dusky mood cast by the A major Serenade's opening allegro, exquisitely conveyed . . . It's almost as hard to forget the rondo finale's chortling piccolos and the adagio's grave beauty . . . After Chailly's revelatory recording, Brahms's two serenades should never have to mop floors or live in the broom cupboard again.
All this is realised with a mixture of ease and exuberance in Chailly's light-fingered performances. He never imposes symphonic weight on music that simply wasn't designed for it, nor does he ever drive it too intensely: he allows it to follow its own course . . . the phrasing of the Leipzig wind, and the suaveness of the strings, are constant delights . . . [it is hard to imagine how these works] could be performed more authoritatively.
[Brahms / Serenade no. 1]: This extra scherzo . . . encapsulates reasons why Chailly's interpretations with the Leipzig orchestra are so compelling: the pacing is judicious, the instrumental balance is precisely gauged, the rhythms are buoyant, the architectural shaping is of impressive finesse. The Leipzig Gewandhaus, an orchestra that Brahms himself conducted, has incontrovertible links with this sort of repertoire, but here that tradition is coupled with innovation. Chailly, while respecting and drawing upon the distinctive facets of the orchestra's sound, invests it with a vital impulse and exuberance. There is a wonderful fluidity to the playing in these two serenades, which positively glow with the warmth of the Gewandhaus's timbre and sparkle with nuanced energy and charm.
It is an absolute joy to have these rather brisk, smiling performances of the two neglected early orchestral gems that Brahms wrote on the way to the symphonies . . . the breezy youthfulness of the present performances has a charming alfresco quality with vivacious tempi that neither undersell nor oversell the orchestral weight. Chailly and his vibrant orchestra, particularly the winds and horns, are flawlessly attuned to these scores, making this recording the very best version to own.
. . . Riccardo Chailly brings to [the Serenades] his characteristic precision and alertness of intellect. As in his highly-praised recordings of Brahm's symphonies and concertos, also with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, we are treated to glinting textures, rhythmic clarity, and a concern for high quality of musicianship all round.
In the hands of Chailly and his Gewandhaus musicians these neglected works from the fresh-faced, clean-shaven composer's youth emerge as prodigious masterpieces . . . Lightness of texture and wit counterbalance symphonic weight in the outer movements of both works. It's hard to imagine finer Brahms interpretation -- a glorious pendant to Chailly's Gewandhaus cycle of the four symphonies.
This delectable supplement to Chailly's Leipzig Brahms symphony cycle is predictably good . . . The first movement of No 1 is joyous, its folky bare string intervals supporting a rustic horn melody . . . The six movements cohere nicely. Me, I'm in love with the passage for clarinet and bassoon at the start of the Menuetto, and the way in which Chailly handles the string entry 90 seconds in. And that tiny Scherzo, demonstrating in barely two minutes why orchestral horn players love Brahms. The Serenade no 2 doesn't contain any violins. It's not dark music though -- Chailly refers to its soundworld as being one of "pleasant shade". The flamboyant woodwind writing in the Scherzo sings out as a consequence, though the lower strings shine in the central Adagio non troppo. The final Rondo is one of the most effervescent bits of Brahms you'll hear. A superb CD -- intelligent, warm performances of two lovely, approachable works. Decca's seductive engineering adds to the fun.
Light, airy Brahms . . . Riccardo Chailly brings charm and grace to both serenades . . . To my ears the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchester is one of the best sounding ensembles in the world, playing and recording in a hall that sounds simply wonderful . . . Chailly's tempos are on the fast side, but don't seem particularly rushed, just very buoyant, even bubbly at times. The virtuoso winds of the orchestra shine, the strings are warm yet airy, and the basses have good, unexaggerated bite. Whether playing softly or on a stentorian bent, the horns add touches of gold to the proceedings.
. . . Brahmsian magic.
[Chailly's] readings are rather quick-paced, with a strong emphasis on dynamic contrasts . . . quite exciting . . . What Chailly does best is catch the exhilaration of the young Brahms . . . The fleet-footed tempos and constantly varying rubato and dynamics make for a pleasantly animated performance . . . [Serenade no. 2]: Very nicely done . . . The sound appears nicely distanced . . . This is, in short, typical Decca sound, with good frequency and dynamic ranges and just the right amount of soft warmth . . . it is a big, full, fairly smooth and comfortable sound that makes for easy listening.
Brahms's Serenades are . . . irresistible thanks to the easy flow of Chailly's conducting and the superb playing of his orchestra . . . [Serenade no. 1]: the momentum could be described as freewheeling, if it weren't so deftly controlled. Big, propulsive crescendos dissolve into gossamer sweetness, and the woodwind playing is full of rustic yet graceful character . . . [Serenade no. 2]: the music sounds golden, and the winds, perfectly blended, play with consummate smoothness . . . [the Adagio, which blossoms into] a yearning melody passed from the clarinet all around the orchestra, is treasurable . . . [the Leipzig players sound] gloriously at ease and idiomatic throughout. Chailly and his orchestra own Brahms right now and that is something few of their rivals could even attempt to challenge.
. . . [among the joys to behold] are the rollicking finales of both works, the Second Serenade's Rondo like an unacknowledged "Hungarian Dance", where Chailly fractionally eases the pulse for the lovely oboe-led second subject. And the "Menuettos" I and II from the First Serenade, utterly entrancing, the second "Menuetto" a dead ringer for one of Brahms's Lieder, especially as played by the Gewandhaus strings . . . Chailly's superbly engineered coupling amounts to an essential refresher course, vital and instructive listening . . .
Excellent supplements to Chailly's traversal of the Brahms symphonies, these illumined readings of the two serenades come highly recommended . . . [Serenade no. 1]: The often witty "Rondo: Allegro" last movement virtually sails in Chailly's spirited rendition, gushing with elan and deft articulation in strings and woodwinds. We have thoroughly enjoyed the superb resonance of the orchestra, illuminated by fine sound engineering . . . [Serenade no. 2 / 1st movement]: The Gewandhaus capacity for a singing line -- especially in the dominant viola part -- has rarely enjoyed such sonic splendor. The move to the harmonically distant D-flat adds an expressive touch not soon forgotten . . .
Textures are clear, playing is gloriously warm . . . even at fleet tempos the playing never loses the weight and character that it requires.
. . . the internal balance of the orchestra is magnificent, with characterful woodwind playing throughout as in the "minuet" movement of the "First Serenade" (track 4). There is no shortage of power and vigour either and the forthright delivery of the rondo finale (track 6) is properly energetic . . . [Serenade no. 2]: the woodwind inflections are lively and charming. Once again Chailly manages to find plenty of vigour in the infectious finale. This is a splendid pendant to Chailly's Leipzig Brahms cycle, superbly recorded and bringing up these unfairly neglected scores as fresh as a daisy.
. . . gloriously played, conducted and recorded. A definitive coupling.
A radiant coda to Riccardo Chailly's Leipzig Brahms cycle; superb performances of these early works that never strive for symphonic depth where none exists, and take both serenades at their charming, relaxed face value.
. . . Brahms delights so fresh . . . enjoy the glorious recorded sound this remarkable orchestra receives here . . . for some listeners the performances were perfection.