I love a happy ending.
I've very much enjoyed the musical Renaissance of this fine orchestra after the decades long systematic destruction of its host city and a near calamitous strike in 2010. I wasn't sure the orchestra would survive the much reported strike. Many fine players left the orchestra, welcomed by sunnier climes both musically and temperate.
The first concert by the orchestra back after many months on a wintry picket line was instructive, its musical comrade, Leonard Slatkin bravely going through Dvorak's New World Symphony. I was happy they were playing. I'm not sure they were. There was so much sadness behind the notes. I won't comment on the technical.
Back to happy. What a difference five years makes.
Slatkin is still directing. He's not my favourite conductor. More director than artist. But there is no doubt that through his care and kindness he has rebuilt the orchestra into something special. First, the orchestra board has hired well. All those wonderful musicians leaving or retiring have been replaced with fabulous players. Many new charismatic principal chairs and lots of well needed, solid rank and file.
Also added, lots of new digital/community outreach from the band's home in the Cass Corridor and wonderful concerts simulcast on the web. In addition, new recordings captured live from its gem of a hall under its own label. An important Tchaikovsky set, and this new release of Brahms' Symphonies.
As a general overview of the symphonies, you'll be getting very well played, middle of the road interpretations in a dynamic recorded style.
Is the orchestra the finished product yet? Of course not, but the fix is in. The orchestra has a rich, Brahmsian style, so all the wonderful orchestral syncopated effects are heard clearly.
The very tricky syncopations are the primary technical considerations most conductors work on in rehearsal. Yet, Slatkin has worked on orchestral sonorities, too. The orchestra has a grandeur that I have not heard live or in recordings for some time. It's like everyone knows how important this work is in the here and now, the work is cherished, and sounds it. Are we at Paul Paray levels yet? Not quite, but getting there is half the fun.
Interpretively, there's nothing to worry Brahms fans. Tempos are steady and feel right, and rhythms are supple when required. These are mainstream performances, which for me is just fine. That said, there are musically delectable moments throughout all four masterpieces. Every unique movement is propelled forward to great climaxes, so important to the Brahms experience. Opening movements, the grand sonata forms, are especially good, Symphony No 3 and 4, particularly.
The recordings, all taken from live performances, have a transparency that echoes the lovely acoustic of the famous Detroit hall. The power is there and all the solo players have a musical cushion on which to weave magic.
Every serious collector will have individual recordings of all the symphonies, collections, too. But no matter. Go ahead and purchase this set for purely selfish musical reasons. But also know you'll be investing a little in a great American institution, a city rising, and getting a first class Brahms Symphony set. Recommended.
Brahms: The Four Symphonies (Live)
Recorded Live from Orchestra Hall during the 2016 Brahms Festival.
Leonard Slatkin, Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Release Date May 6, 2016