Saturday, March 19, 2011

Johannes Brahms: Serenade in D Major

I have heard this after almost thirty four years. It is still as fresh and the recording is superb.
Istvan Kertesz with the London Symphony. 1968.
Brahms composed his two orchestral serenades between 1857 and 1860.They were his first purely orchestral works to be published. The D Major Serenade was first intended to be a chamber work like an octet or a nonet. Then Brahms converted that to a work for small orchestra. He laid the orchestra out as fifteen strings, single woodwinds, two french horns, trumpet and timpani.
This Serenade respects musicians like Haydn, Beethoven and early symphonies of Schubert. The first movement that I have posted here pays homage to the finale of Haydn's D Major 'London' Symphony with its main theme and the 'drone' bass in open fifths by which it is supported and set for Brahms' favourite orchestral instrument, the french horn. Brahms had himself played the horn in his early days in Hamburg. The second subject is a string theme that breaks out into triplets. These triplets develop a third theme that brings back the exposition. The movement ends with a poetic coda where the flute takes over from the horn.
The second movement, Scherzo in D Minor, reminds us of the D Minor Piano Concerto and also of the scherzo of the B Flat Major Piano Concerto. The Adagio Non Troppo third movement in B Flat Major is rich and in sonata form and evokes memories of the 'Scene by the Brook' of Beethoven's 'Pastoral'. The fourth movement is a minuet with G Major and G Minor alternates. In this, we are reminded of the original instrumentation of the serenade. The fifth movement is the second Scherzo in D Major and is again dominated by the first french horn. This reminds us of the third movement of Beethoven's Second Symphony. It has a trio in D Major with a quaver motion in the accompaniment. The finale is a rondo which bounces a lot with a refrain and expansive subsidiary themes that ultimately find their way into the french horns and trumpet bringing the Serenade to its majestic close.
An Excellent reading by Kertesz. A great conductor with a great work. Purely Pastoral. The painting brings out the emotion perfectly in the video.

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