Brahms: The Symphonies
Staatskapelle Berlin, Daniel Barenboim (conductor)
Having thoroughly enjoyed the first-rate symphony cycles of Schumann, Beethoven and Elgar from Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin, I received this latest release with a high degree of anticipation. To the best of my knowledge this is only the second time that either Daniel Barenboim or the Staatskapelle Berlin have recorded a complete cycle of Brahms’ symphonies and Barenboim’s was with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra around 25 years ago.
This set benefits from outstanding sound; the fine acoustic of the Pierre Boulez Saal, Berlin, where these performances were recorded in October last year, has been expertly captured by the DG team.
None of the individual symphony performances would be my top choice for the work but the set has a great deal to commend it from a musical perspective. These are not performances to fill one with awe and wonder as if hearing the performances anew but rather they represent a carefully considered, mature approach to the works. In the present climate romantic music-making that looks back to the conducting traditions of such former greats as Furtwangler, Karajan or Jochum is not de rigeur. In my view this is unfortunate because Brahms, in particular, really needs this kind of approach. Fortunately we get an unashamedly romantic view from Barenboim, full of warmth and splendour. Barenboim gives us highly musical interpretations in which everything sounds just so. The individual movements, and indeed complete symphonies are carefully crafted and certainly not at all showy in an undesirable way. Often the playing of the Staatskapelle Berlin is quite magical and they have a wonderful way of quietly ending phrases. In the first symphony I particularly noted some splendid percussion work, in the second the wind section were memorable and in the third and fourth symphonies we get, perhaps the best overall performances in the set. Highly enjoyable and thoroughly recommended.