Brahms - Symphony No 4, etc.
Monteverdi Choir; Orchestra Révolutionnaire et Romantique / John Eliot Gardiner
Soli Deo Gloria SDG705 Buy now
(71’ · DDD)
Brahms Symphony No 4. Geistliches Lied, Op 30. Fest- und Gedenksprüche, Op 109 Bach Cantata No 150, ‘Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich’ – Meine Augen sehen stets zu dem Herrn; Meine Tage in den Leinden Beethoven Coriolan, Op 62 Gabrieli Sanctus and Benedictus a 12 Schütz Saul, Saul was verfolgst du mich?, SWV415
Recorded live 2008.
If Brahms’s Fourth Symphony is an essay in self-consummation, so too is the life that effected its making. And it is this which John Eliot Gardiner’s superbly planned 10-item programme so revealingly explores. After the gauntlet has been thrown down by Coriolan, the story is taken up with music by two earlier composers from whom Brahms learnt his craft. Brahms included Giovanni Gabrieli’s Sanctus and Benedictus and Schütz’s scarifying brief psychodrama of Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus in a concert with the Vienna Singakademie in 1864. Gardiner has examined Brahms’s score for the occasion, with its astutely pencilled markings. The Monteverdi Choir realise Brahms’s vision to perfection.
Movements follow from the Bach cantata whose subtly modified concluding chaconne provided the germ-cell for the symphony. From there we descend into the pool of quiet which is Brahms’s own Geistliches Lied, a workshop essay in fashioning a double canon at the ninth which is also a vision of the peace which comes from the acceptance of God’s will. Finally there are the three linked a cappella ‘festal and commemorative sentences’ which post-date the symphony but which wonderfully complement it in their creative redeployment of Baroque craft.
Gardiner’s account of the symphony begins with a brisk and cleanly voiced account of the exposition, its literalness and flexibility nicely matched. Unusually for a period-instrument performance, there is a finely developed use of legato here, even on occasion a hint of Viennese portamento.
What follows is a good deal more of a disjunct. The movement ends with a blazing account of the coda which out-Furtwänglers Furtwängler in the frenzy of the (unmarked) acceleration through the final 40 bars. The development, however, is skated over. This is odd since the slow movement is beautifully done, the old instruments bringing out the music’s quaint ballad-like quality to illuminating effect.
In the third-movement Allegro giocoso, the last to be written and taken here at a terrific lick, there is little sense of the epic revel Brahms has created. The finale, by contrast, is superbly done, Gardiner and his players bringing the symphony – and the cycle – to a compelling close.
There have been finer individual Fourths than this yet there has never previously been a recording which so vividly magics the work out of its own private hinterland for our delectation and awe.