Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Why not play the Brahms Serenades?

I am coming up on a year of residing in Los Angeles, and I believe I have determined by favorite thing about it: concerts at the Hollywood Bowl. Last night, the LA Phil played three Brahms pieces, and played them well. The oboe solo played by Ariana Ghenz at the beginning of the second movement of the Violin Concerto was especially lovely.

At the beginning of the concert, Leonard Statkin spoke. His appearance surprised me--I have always thought of him as a young conductor (he was when he began making recordings when I was in High School), and now he looks 65 because, well, he is 65. But he made an obvious yet generally unremarked upon point: Brahms only wrote 13 orchestral works in his life: four symphonies, four concertos, two overtures, the Haydn Variations, and two serenades. He also noted that the serenades are rarely played.

This is a shame, because the Brahms serenades are absolutely glorious pieces. The opening movement of the First is as fresh and joyful as anything written in the second half of the 19th century, and the Second is clever (in part because of its strange instrumentation) and tuneful. Haitink has done wonderful recordings of both: the first with the Concertgebouw and the second with the London Symphony.

Brahms didn't leave us with much (he burned a lot of stuff that didn't meet his own standards), but what he left was choice. We should hear at all on a regular basis.

No comments: