, August 2012
The grave and leaden thuds of the threatening drums that open the first movement Un poco sostenuto - Allegro are implacably convincing. Impressive too is the beautiful oboe playing of the rising motif at 2:16. Throughout this movement an assured Jansons successfully provides generous quantities of beauty, sadness and even menace. Compared to many rivals it took me a while to get used to his rather measured pace. One senses that he is rather holding back his forces. Although Rattle comes close with the BPO in truth no one I have heard on record has managed to provide an opening of such raw power. It approaches that of Klemperer and the Philharmonia. There is a burnished autumnal countryside feel to the E major Andante sostenuto. One could imagine walking at the edge of an eerily tranquil and shadowy forest whilst anticipating the ominous onset of severe weather. In the midst of such glorious playing I was struck how much the rising melody for solo violin at 6:05 reminded me of a section in Brahms’ Violin Concerto. Warm and magnificently lyrical melodies abound in the short Un poco allegretto e grazioso right from the swaying opening measures. Its manner is reminiscent of Mendelssohn. This is fresh music of the great outdoors and is evocative of cool early morning dew over a backdrop of wonderful Alpine scenery. Jansons conveys a sense of intense activity in the closing Adagio - Allegro non troppo ma con brio as if lying on a verdant grassy bank gazing up at the tones and shapes of a swiftly changing sky. I loved the inspiring and highly memorable chorale melody. The writing really evokes the finale to Beethoven's ‘Choral’ Symphony.
It was in 1884 and 1885 that Brahms worked on his Symphony No. 4 at the Austrian summer resort of Mürzzuschlag in the Styrian Alps. Hans von Bülow, who had conducted a rehearsal of the score enthused that the symphony was “stupendous, quite original, individual, and rock-like. Incomparable strength from start to finish.” It’s esteem has endured and remains for many Brahms’s most popular symphony. Walter Niemann found an intense degree of sadness in the fourth movement and wanted to describe the score as Brahms’s ‘Elegiac’ symphony.
A comforting mood of warm serenity and joy suffuses the swaying opening Allegro non troppo. In splendid performances such as this I am reminded of the verse, “perfectly cultivated earth. Honey of dawn, sun in bloom” from the poem Glimmer by Paul Éluard (1895-1952). Commencing with a striking horn-call in Jansons’s hands the E major Andante moderato feels like a dreamscape attaining beguiling heights of fantasy and grandeur. I love the good humour and vigour of the Scherzo as Jansons takes the music forward with majestic strides. In the dark key of E minor the final movement marked Allegro energico e passionato is a heroic drama constructed out of a theme and variations in the form of a chaconne often described as a passacaglia. Here Brahms introduces contrasts of the broadest imagination including chorale-style variations featuring horns and trombones. I especially enjoyed the lovely and moving passage for solo flute at 3:05-3:56 as well as the following woodwind interplay and the fierce and defiant hammer-blows.
Jansons and the Bavarian RSO provide highly accomplished performances…The warm and well balanced sound quality from live concerts at the Herkulessaal, Munich is impressive.
Jansons and his Bavarian Radio colleagues are impressive Brahmsians. Any serious collector should be happy to hold this set of Brahms’ symphonies. © 2012 MusicWeb International Read complete review