Brahms’ glorious Fourth Symphony is the crowning achievement of a well nigh perfect collection that set the standard for the symphony as a form since those of Beethoven.
In the four movements, Brahms moves from a flawlessly executed Sonata Form opening movement, to a gloriously elegiac Andante to a rollicking third movement, culminating in the famous, granitic Passacaglia serving as the finale.
As befits one of the great masterpieces of Western Music, recordings are legion, many of them very good. And to be honest, you can never have enough great Brahms recordings in your library.
We will focus on my two favourites, the great Chesky/Reiner/RPO and this incredible performance by the magician of conductors, Carlos Kleiber.
The Reiner is interesting in that it was his favourite recording. Imagine that, with the huge number of superlative Chicago/RCAs under his belt? It has an emotional wallop that’s difficult to beat and a recording that glows and gleams under the Brahmsian sun. The Royal Phil sounds positively mesmerized.
So, how does Herr. Kleiber compare? Brilliantly well, of course. Connect one of the greatest musicians of the 20th Century and one of the greatest orchestras, both on very top form, and magic happens.
Kleiber did four recordings for DG that have been remastered and reissued on vinyl. Beethoven 5, 7, Schubert 3 & 8, and this beauty. I’ll be reviewing all four for Audiophilia.
Kleiber’s Brahms has a wistful beauty that is beguiling. Tactile, even. If you’ve watched him on YouTube conduct this symphony, the way he uses every part of his body under total rhythmic control while maintaining fluid like gestures is remarkable. And these are the results — total control, total beauty, and incomparable interpretation.
The Vienna Phil excel in every department, but this very good recording (on exceptionally quiet vinyl) showcases the clarinets, horns and trombones, especially. So many deft touches here, strong rhythmic moments, there. The timbral world this orchestra inhabits is perfect for Brahms. I think the oft-used word is ‘Brahmsian’.
Now, to the DG recording. Many critics of DG recordings, especially those of 60s, 70s and 80s vintage, no matter the location, complain of inhibited dynamics, compressed sound. Akin to listening behind a wall.
Listening to the CD of this performance, I’d concur. The amazing performance still shines through, but one wonders what RCA, Decca or EMI would have done with the sessions. In any case, it’s DG’s house sound.
Happily, the LP is better in every respect than the CD. Instruments have much more timbral accuracy and the soundstage is more natural. An EMI or Decca at their best, no, but worthy of your dollars for the sublime music making alone.
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98
1. Allegro non troppo
2. Andante moderato
1. Allegro giocoso - Poco meno presto - Tempo I
2. Allegro energico e passionato - Piu allegro