by Anthony Kershaw
Can one ever get enough Brahms? Not me. Especially, his four magnificent symphonies. In my life, there’s always room for another set. Here we have half a set — I assume Symphonies Nos. 3 & 4 are in the can and on their way soon. In addition to the first two symphonies, we get the bonus of the Tragic Overture and Variations on a Theme of Haydn, both of which receive wonderful performances.
I associate the Brahms Symphonies with conductors Walter, Klemperer, Furtwängler, even von Karajan. I would not have thought mercurial (and inconsistent) Valery Gergiev a top match for the composer, especially his autumnal qualities. I was wrong!
These performances are as good as any. Gergiev digs deep into the architecture of the works allowing counterpoint, usually shrouded in ‘thick’ playing, messy acoustics or poor recordings, to the fore. It makes for interesting and instructive listening.
But, make no mistake, these are not musical dissertations on contrapuntal writing. What Gergiev and his magnificent London Symphony Orchestra give us are superbly played, exciting performances. Now and again — 2nd subject flute solo of No. 2, mvt 1 and the final bars of No. 1 — Gergiev allows a little hesitation in the service of interpretation. He’s not trying to be different, just musical. It may work for some, others not so much. Me? S’okay. But, the big picture is magnificent.
[click to continue…]