After being so thoroughly dismayed (and, frankly, perturbed) by the new Mirare CD of Brahms Serenades played by the Orchestre Consuelo (see my review elsewhere on this blog), I just couldn't leave that bitter taste lingering in my mind. I had to find a better recording. Oh, there are probably at least a dozen on my shelves I could dust off and listen to, but I was craving a newer release. Something fresh. Searching Amazon, I came across this recent one from Jaime Martin on Ondine. I'm not sure how I missed it when it was released in 2017, but I am happy to hear it now.
Where founder and principal cellist Victor Julien-Laferriere led his small orchestra in readings completely devoid of charm on Mirare, flautist Jaime Martin leads the Gavle Symphony Orchestra in performances brimming with it. And along with charm, the music is endowed with graceful musical phrasing and joyful singing lines - all of which are inexplicably absent in the other recording. Tempos are perfectly chosen throughout both works, the orchestral playing is sophisticated, and the recorded sound is very good.
It's really that simple.
And while all of the above is true, in all honesty it's the Second Serenade here which is the real gem. Not that the First is in any way inferior; it's just not quite as glorious as the Second - which is simply effervescent and lifted aloft with joy to a greater degree than we hear in the First. And Martin proves that tempos can indeed be quick and moved along with forward momentum, without excessive lingering, and work perfectly fine - unlike what we witnessed in Julien-Laferriere's indifferent attempt at it.
I notice in the booklet that each of these Serenades was recorded at different sessions, separated by several months. It is the later recording which is the happiest, for whatever reason. Even the sound is better in the later session - airier, with a more spacious acoustic. Perhaps the absence of violins in this piece allowed more room for the players to spread out.
As a busy orchestral musician earlier in his career, Spanish flautist Jaime Martin made very few solo or chamber music recordings. However, I did find one on my shelf - Mozart's D-major Flute Quartet with the Brindisi Quartet on EMI (1997). Listening to it again after all these years, I was struck by Martin's sparkling, resplendently singing flute tone. But even more, I was reminded why I've always loved this recording so much - the sheer joy expressed in the playing of this happiest of Mozart works is simply irrepressible. And I was absolutely certain his bright, energetic and joyous flute playing would carry over with him onto the podium. And it certainly does, as evidenced by this Brahms CD. Martin has retired from flute playing and currently holds principal conducting positions with the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. He was also recently appointed Chief Conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra as well. This Brahms recording was made during his previous tenure with the Gavle (Sweden) Symphony Orchestra (2013-2022).
While this isn't the very best recording of the Brahms Serenades you can find, it's very nicely done. And coming after the aforementioned Mirare disc, I enjoyed it very much.