Magazine article Gramophone

Brahms: Complete Symphonies

Magazine article Gramophone

Brahms: Complete Symphonies

Article excerpt

Brahms [G]

Complete Symphonies

Boston Symphony Orchestra / Andris Nelsons

BSO Classics (F) (3) 1701/3 (169' * DDD)

Recorded live at Symphony Hall, Boston,

November 2016

In a personal booklet note for this set Andris Nelsons celebrates the recorded legacy of Brahms in Boston, referencing complete cycles from Leinsdorf and Haitink and recordings of individual symphonies under Koussevitzky, Munch and Ozawa. Only a conductor supremely confident in his own identity would venture to do so, of course, and Nelsons is nothing if not his own man in this repertoire, confounding expectations in some respects while confirming them in others. His Brahms is as vital, impulsive and rhythmic as all his work strives to be though not as sheerly dynamic as one might have imagined--but there is blend and bloom, too, with Symphony Hall, Boston, seeming to accommodate this music from the bass lines upwards; a deep and sonorous sound.

Nelsons talks of finding precisely the right character for each movement and in that he truly listens to the music, feeling its pulse and allowing the phrasing to evolve with as little intervention or 'shaping' as possible. He is generous without indulgence, muscular without vulgarity. Just occasionally one senses him harnessing his natural dynamism in deference to the music's noble pedigree. Perhaps I was expecting a higher degree of tension and excitement from the opening movement of the First Symphony. The promise is there in the tragically underpinned sostenuto of the opening--giving way as it does to the enticing woodwinds of the second lyric idea--but maybe the main Allegro could be a shade more imperative.

That's the thing about this music: you don't want to unduly drive it but nor do you want to simply luxuriate in it. The second movement of the First brings to the fore the distinguished Boston woodwinds and a sense of the music evolving in the playing of it. And then there is the finale, with storm clouds famously clearing with the BSO's refulgent solo horn and a chorale of trombones to die for. Now the main Allegro here is liberating for sure, and perhaps Nelsons had been intentionally holding something in reserve because the climax leading to the return of the ubiquitous horn theme is rollicking indeed.

Anyone who thinks that Brahms was the conservative and Wagner the radical needs to think again. …

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