Brahms Symphony No. 2 in D Major
“For the second summer in a row, Andris Nelsons has invited the young German maestro David Afkham to conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood. It’s fair to say that the conductor fully repaid the confidence placed in him, demonstrating again a remarkable assuredness for someone his age.
Brahms’ Symphony no. 2 in D major seems to be a predilect work for Afkham. He conducted it in New York four years ago at the helm of the Mostly Mozart Orchestra. Now, leading one of the world’s great ensembles, his thoughts about interpreting this warhorse were made even clearer. Afkham’s Brahms is a youthful one, without lingering rubati and questions about direction. He knew exactly what he wanted to achieve: neither a continuation of the grim atmosphere prevalent in the First Symphony nor a full rejection of the past. Hence, he superbly maintained a balance between sunny and gloomy segments, triumphant enthusiasm and somber doubts (as expressed by James Sommerville’s horn calls), passionate Romantic content and Classical form, graceful pianissimos and heavy brass. To underline the importance of the cellos for this music – introducing themes in both the first and second movements – he placed them in the center of the stage, anchoring the entire orchestral sound. Ambiguities between binary and ternary rhythms in the Adagio and several rapid switches in mood in the first half of the work could make one think that the gap between Brahms’ and Mahler’s worlds is not as wide as generally perceived. The orchestra responded very well to Afkham’s relentless drive, with a clean sound balance between winds and strings.
…David Afkham has conducted only rarely in the United States. Other American orchestras should follow Boston’s example and invite him to guest conduct as much as he is available.”