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“Kenneth Woods, conductor always keeps Brahms’s orchestra in mind, and the result is a version of the work that, with a few minor exceptions, could easily be mistaken for an arrangement by Brahms himself. Woods evidently has a keen understanding both of the quartet and of Brahms’s orchestral practice, but he also demonstrates an impressive discipline in keeping this large-scale music within the Classically proportioned orchestral framework that Brahms would have favored…
“Where Schoenberg lays on thick orchestral textures, rich in doublings, Woods opts instead for transparent, clear textures, always sufficiently forceful, but never outside of the chamber-music spirit of the music itself.
Another inevitable association is the idea that Woods is providing a new Brahms symphony for modern audiences—and we could argue that he has already done so with his revelatory recordings of the Hans Gál symphonies. But the Second Quartet is early Brahms, stylistically distinct from the symphonies proper. So we are not dealing with Brahms’s Fifth Symphony here so much as his Third Serenade.
“The performance, by the English Symphony Orchestra under Woods himself, is excellent. Woods writes that his first obstacle in making the arrangement was the high register required of the horns to play the work in A. The horn quartet is certainly stretched, but their ensemble and tone are rarely compromised. The string section also shows impressive discipline and stamina in the long melodic lines, and the balance and color within the woodwind section fully justifies Woods’s regular recourse to their solos and ensembles.