Neeme Järvi/Royal Scottish National Orchestra (1992)
The second of Strauss' two youthful symphonies (the first, in d, amounts to little more than a demonstration of the boy's tenacity in carrying through a large project) shows the strong influence of Schumann, particularly in the first movement. The ideas, however, lack Schumann's genius and the development lacks imagination. It consists of mainly sequential repetition and lackluster countermelodies. Furthermore, if one compares Strauss' preparation for the recapitulation with say Brahms' in his second symphony, Strauss' weaknesses as a conventional symphonist come to the fore. While Brahms gradually introduces more and more elements of his introduction as subsidiary material in the development until the recapitulation comes almost as the development's metamorphosis, Strauss simply does "one thing after another," including an apparently desperate repetition of overused diminished 7th chords. The finale brings back themes from earlier movements, usually a sign of surrender in early Strauss that he lacks enough interesting material for the length of the movement.
Still, the symphony, although it disappoints those who know what heights Strauss later rose to, should not be dismissed. It impressed highly-cultivated contemporary musicians like von Bulow, moved to offer Strauss a position as his assistant. The slow movement is one of the most complex of the early period – indeed, one of the few not in ABA song form. The scherzo (the best movement of the four) has a screwball quality to it in its odd syncopations and augmented-triad harmonies. Del Mar likens the introductory motive to an automobile horn – for him, a defect; for me, a delight. The orchestration, allowing for an occasional thickness in the winds, is absolutely assured, if not inspired.
Järvi champions the work as if convinced the world has mistaken filet mignon for hamburger. He believes even in Strauss' first movement and finale and plays the gaucheries with all the conviction of the young composer himself, transmogrifying the work into, in effect, Schumann's fifth symphony. The first movement proceeds with a solemn tread. The last movement fully lives up to the appassionato marking. Järvi disappoints only in the scherzo, slightly heavy-footed, and casts a uniform solemnity over the entire work. Still, of the two available recordings, this is the one to have.
Hiroshi Wakasugi/Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra (1993)
Wakasugi outshines Järvi with a brightly-colored, brisk scherzo, but that's it. The rest is a dutiful performance without fire or much ability to build climaxes or to delineate the architecture. Under Wakasugi, the finale especially suffers, becoming a compendium of 19th-century symphonic cliches.
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