BRAHMS Symphony 4 DVORÁK Symphony 9 (Hrůša)
In Jakub Hrůša’s hands, the opening of Brahms’s Fourth becomes a series of world-weary sighs, an apt lead-in to a reading that’s at once elegiac and – with relatively broad tempos and some exceptionally emphatic playing by the Bamberg Symphony – monumental. His interpretation thus stands in striking contrast with Herbert Blomstedt’s open-hearted, supple and lovingly detailed 1995 live broadcast recording with the same orchestra (DG, 7/16). Take the woodwind-writing at the very beginning, for example: Blomstedt observes Brahms’s phrasing, pairing the off-the-beat crotchets so they mirror the violin’s melodic rise and fall; Hrůša’s are punctuated individually so they sound simply accompanimental.
Hrůša, chief conductor in Bamberg since 2016, elicits some marvellous playing from his orchestra. Listen to the strings’ singing, sinewy tone at 0'55" in the finale, say, or to the eloquent wind solos in that movement’s central section. But, in general – and particularly when heard alongside Blomstedt (and please do try to hear it) – I find Hrůša’s emotional range overly narrow.
The Czech conductor is slightly more pliant in the Dvořák while conveying a similar sonic grandeur that sometimes borders on the granitic. Again, there are memorable moments: the chaste simplicity of the famous cor anglais solo in the Largo, for instance, or the più mosso at 4'53", where the strings shiver in the cool, moonlit glow of the woodwinds; and I like the chirpy staccato articulation he etches in the outer section of the Scherzo. But turn to Robin Ticciati, also with the Bambergers (Tudor, 8/15), whose careful attention to the composer’s dynamic markings creates a play of light and shade that makes Hrůša’s version seem overexposed. Indeed, Ticciati’s incisive, flexible, and felicitously phrased performance is far more satisfying on all counts.