Brahms: Serenades – No 1 in D major, Op 11; No 2 in A major, Op 16

Reviewed on Wed 11 Mar, 2015

There is much that is thought-provoking about this scrupulously prepared music-making. Riccardo Chailly's distinctively spry, punchy and energetic way with the First Serenade in particular emphasizes the budding composer's fondness for and admiration of Haydn. In the booklet Chailly fascinatingly cites Sir Adrian Boult's purposeful 1975 EMI recording when justifying the case for his own unusually swift treatment of the third movement Adagio non troppo (he rightly reminds us that Boult studied this repertoire under the legendary Artur Nikisch in Leipzig). In fact, Chailly gets through the whole work in just 39 minutes (and he observes the first-movement repeat too). Collectors weaned on the Boult – to say nothing of Kertész (Decca), Haitink (Philips), Bertini (Orfeo) and Handley (Chandos) – may conceivably find the performance lacking just a little in vaulting ambition and sheer symphonic reach, though there's absolutely no want of twinkling affection or tender compassion. Its equally enchanting successor brings fewer surprises, the sublimely observant and articulate orchestral playing making you appreciate afresh the ear-pricking originality of Brahms's instrumentation (which dispenses with the violins altogether) – and what delectably springy and personable woodwinds in the exuberant scherzo and playful rondo finale! No grumbles, either, about Decca's production-values, so why not give this stimulating coupling a try?
–Andrew Achenbach