The Linos Ensemble Plays Brahms

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BRAHMS: Serenades Nos. 1 & 2 / Linos Ensemble/ Capriccio C5447

Believe it or not, there are recordings that even we professional critics absolutely enjoy, and this is clearly one of them. Although, as I’ve said many times, I normally don’t care for chamber music arrangements of orchestral works, even when, at times, the composer wrote or sanctioned them, these two serenades are different. The first was actually written by Brahms as a nonet for flute, 2 clarinets, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello and bass and premiered that way but, wracked by self-doubts because it was so long, almost of symphonic proportions, he eventually chose to publish it as an orchestral score. In writing the second, he immediately went for an orchestral approach of sorts—a full complement of violas, cellos and basses, but no violins, 2 clarinets and just one each of flute, bassoon and horn. The Linos Ensemble, wanting to bring the second serenade in line with the first, have chosen to use just one each of viola, cello and bass.

And the results are really, really beautiful. Although I have to admit that the Linos Ensemble could have added a bit more pep in their step in the first serenade, this original configuration has a wonderful charm all its own. You almost feel as Brahms did when writing the second serenade: “Don’t laugh! I felt downright blissful during this process. I have rarely written down notes with such gusto; the tones penetrated me gently, and I was happy through and through.”

As mentioned in the liner notes, the first movement of the Serenade No. 1 remind one of the first movement of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony. The first recording I ever heard of this work was the one conducted by Gerard Schwarz on Nonesuch, the second Arturo Toscanini’s New York Philharmonic broadcast (a wonderful performance but a defective recording…the pitch keeps fluctuating because it was recorded on an off-center acetate disc), the third an excellent recording by Rafael Frübeck de Burgos, which is the one I have in my collection. Although I still like the full orchestral version, too, there’s a wonderful charm in this one that just makes you smile.

By contrast, I firmly believe that the Serenade No, 2 actually works better in the chamber music arrangement. Without the somewhat heavy-sounding, violin-less strings, the music sounds much less bogged down and moves more lightly.amd here I felt that the Linos Ensemble caught the almost elfin-like spirit of the music better than in the interior movements of the first. The sound quality of the recording is also very good, closely miked but not abrasive at all, giving both warmth and a bit of sparkle to the instruments.

Since these are well-known pieces, my usual descriptions of the music are unnecessary here. All I can say is, go and get this recording. It’ll make you smile the same way it did me.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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