Johannes Brahms (07.05.1833 – 03.04.1897) was a German composer and pianist and is considered to be one of the leading composers in the romantic period. He was born in Hamburg into a Lutheran family, though he spent most of his career in Vienna, Austria. His most popular works include four symphonies, the Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80, two piano concertos, Ein Deutsches Requiem, Op. 45 and his Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77.
Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98 represents his supreme achievement in orchestral music. In this work he successfully infuses the highly charged passion of the Romantic era into the strict musical architecture of the Baroque period.This brilliant marriage of the new and the old is reflected throughout this wonderful symphony.
The opening subject of the first movement has an almost matter of fact beauty. The gorgeous slow movement opens with a Romantic horn call and ends in a glow of Autumnal melancholy. The third movement, in C major, is the only true symphonic scherzo that Brahms wrote and the finale consists of a theme (derived from Bach) followed by thirty variations and a coda, which rounds the symphony off perfectly with an outburst of wintery resolve.
Our top choice for this symphony is Carlos Kleiber’s charismatic 1981 recording with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra which, thirty-eight years later, stills sounds remarkably good. In the first movement the horns are prominent and the conclusion is tremendous. The Vienna Philharmonic’s cellos produce a most beautiful sound in the second subject. We are treated to a swaggering scherzo that builds anticipation of its climax and the start of the fourth movement. The final movement is bold and outgoing – the final bars leave this listener stunned and serene. In all this recording has some gloriously articulate orchestral playing, from the Vienna Philharmonic, married to an interpretation that is at the same time fierce, noble and austere.
Do take a listen.