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Brahms: Symphonies 3 & 4 - Gergiev

Brahms: Symphonies 3 & 4 - Gergiev

LSO Live  LSO 0737

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Brahms: Symphonies 3 & 4

London Symphony Orchestra
Valery Gergiev


Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra bring to a close their celebrated Brahms’ cycle with the release of Brahms Symphonies Nos 3 and 4.

Brahms is often associated with the idea of abstract music, free of literary models or autobiography, but with the Third the composer wrote in many ways his most personal symphony.

Composed at a mountain retreat in 1884, about a year after completing the Third, Brahms’ architectural musical skill is nowhere more evident than in his Fourth and final symphony, employing Baroque contrapuntal techniques and chromatic labyrinths and described by Hans von Bülow as having the feeling of ‘being given a beating by two incredibly intelligent people.’

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Review by Graham Williams - August 19, 2014

The recording of two Brahms Symphonies that occupy this SACD stem from performances by the LSO under Valery Gergiev given at the Barbican in December 2012. At these concerts Gergiev paired Brahms Symphonies with those of Szymanowski – an idea that many might regard as a bizarre piece of programming. However, the latter have already appeared on the LSO Live label no doubt helping to increase the listening public's awareness of the fine music by an unfamiliar Polish composer.

Brahms needs no such advocacy and with a catalogue bursting with recordings of Brahms Symphonies from some of the greatest conductors of the past 100 years one is left wondering why anyone at LSO Live thought that Gergiev's accounts were worth preserving on disc, especially as there is already a fine set of these symphonies by Bernard Haitink on this same label.

That said, Gergiev's powerful performance of the Brahms 3rd Symphony is quite impressive with some notably fine wind and brass playing throughout from the LSO and his division of violins antiphonally helps to keep the textures of Brahms's more densely scored passages clear. The opening movement (exposition repeat taken) is expansive though certainly not lacking in ' brio'. The following 'Andante' flows expressively as does the melancholic and songful third movement 'Poco allegretto' – the latter also having the dubious benefit of a brief touch of the conductor's vocalisations at its start. Gergiev's finale is forceful and dramatic and brings Brahms's most personal symphony to a satisfying conclusion.

Unlike the previous work, Gergiev's account of the 4th Symphony disappoints. The opening movement seems somewhat perfunctory, lacking both forward momentum and purpose. The slow movement is dutiful rather than engaging, in spite of some lovely instrumental solos from the orchestra, and once again is marred by Gergiev's humming. The scherzo, however, is buoyant and energetic whilst the finale, here played 'attacca', unfolds with appropriate passion and grandeur.

Sadly, the intractable Barbican acoustic could hardly be more unsuited to the music of Brahms and the recording engineers have been faced with an almost impossible task in attempting to capture the music's warmth and richness. When playing forte or above the violins sound shrill, whilst timpani are dry and boxy. There is also little sense of depth to the sound which could only be described as claustrophobic.

With so many excellent performances and recordings of these works available (even on SACD), Gergiev's accounts are really not competitive.

Copyright © 2014 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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