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This download is taken from the second half of LSO Live’s two-CD set featuring the Brahms first and second symphonies. It comes as a contrast and antidote to the sombre and more turbulent world of the First Symphony and Tragic Overture explored on the previous release. This coupling is much lighter in character and gives space to the ‘Variations on a Theme of Haydn’, as well as the Second Symphony.

Symphony No 2 is an altogether more sensual affair than its predecessor, even if only a year separates the two works. The thematic rigour is still there, but one senses a more liberated composer at work and a greater fluency in the interplay of ideas. The orchestration, too, is more expansive.

The first and second movements are a substantial Allegro and Adagio, rich in melodic detail and revealing the LSO in all its virtuoso glory. The third movement opens with a solo theme for oboe, highlighting another of Emanuel Abbühl’s superbly elegant lead-ins. In fact the oboe stays poised near the surface in playful fashion, interjecting a note here and there before reappearing to conclude the movement. The fourth movement is an exuberant Allegro con spirito bringing together melodic cells that have permeated the work throughout, and is dashed off with that special Brahmsian lightness so characteristic of his scherzo writing.

The Variations on a Theme of Haydn are one of the composer’s most crafted and carefree offerings, in this performance at any rate. There is a delicacy and momentum to the playing which exceeds expectations for what could have been regarded as the ‘filler’ for the set. Here one has a real sense of a great conductor content to collaborate simply and directly with some great musicians. ‘Recognise what the orchestra can do immediately,’ Gergiev once advised a young conductor. Here he takes his own advice and the result is particularly joyous.

James Mallinson, LSO Live Producer

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