* An afterthought not in the original Times article: I think I understand what Frank and Serkin were trying to do. This movement - perhaps the most beautiful in Brahms - is sometimes wallowed in at too slow a tempo. Yet it is marked Vivace ma non troppo, and has a dancing lilt that, when realized, counters sentimentality and can add to the emotional impact. Further, the second group (which I called "rhapsodic") seems to need more speed than the opening; Brahms himself marked the first theme of the second group con anima, "with spirit."
Still, I feel that the high speed that Frank and Serkin set out with undercuts the quiet beauty of the opening (marked mezza voce [half voice] as well as piano [soft]). What works for the second group is too fast for the first. A simple solution: take the first theme at a speed that works for it and then let the tempo pick up as the exposition proceeds. Frank/Serkin do this to some extent-- their highest speed, at the climax of the exposition, is almost 9 percent faster than their opening speed.
Serkin's grandfather Adolph Busch (in a 1931 recording with Serkin's father Rudolf) begins the movement more slowly than Frank/Serkin - about 7% slower-- but accelerates about twice as much relative to the opening, about 19% over the course of the exposition. The tempo rises naturally with the intensity of the musical expression and the character of the themes. I love this recording, and the fact that it came from artists committed to the ideal of classicism and objectivity makes it all the remarkable. [Return to main text]