Richard Osborne Applauds Riccardo Chailly's New Cycle of Brahms's Symphonies

By Osborne, Richard | Gramophone, October 2013 | Go to article overview

Richard Osborne Applauds Riccardo Chailly's New Cycle of Brahms's Symphonies


Osborne, Richard, Gramophone


Brahms

Four Symphonies. Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op 56a. Tragic Overture, Op 81. Academic Festival Overture, Op 80. Liebeslieder Waltzes--selection. Intermezzos (arr Klengel)--Op 116 No 4; Op 117 No 1. Hungarian Dances--No 1; No 3; No 10. Symphony No 1--Adagio (first performance version) Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra / Riccardo Chailly Decca [M] [3] 478 5344DH3 (3h 54' * DDD)

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Leipzig was never especially kind to Brahms. His First Piano Concerto was jeered off the stage there in 1859. Fences were mended in later years--it was in Leipzig that Brahms conducted his own Second Symphony for the first time--but it is a curious fact that during the last century the Gewandhaus Orchestra made virtually no Brahms symphony recordings of distinction. Even Kurt Masur's late-1970s Philips cycle was a flop.

Riccardo Chailly has changed all that. During his eight-year reign in Leipzig, the Gewandhaus Orchestra has become as articulate a Brahms ensemble as any in Austro-Germany. It helps, of course, that Chailly himself is a trusted Brahmsian. As Alan Sanders noted in these columns at the time of the launch of Chailly's Royal Concertgebouw cycle in November 1988, his Brahms is 'strong, serious, unidiosyncratic and very directly expressed'.

Chailly belongs to that select group of conductors on record who direct all four Brahms symphonies almost equally well. Such conductors--Weingartner, Klemperer, Boult, Wand and Loughran in his fine Halle cycle--tend to belong to the spare-sounding, classically orientated school of Brahms interpretation, a school to which Chailly himself also subscribes.

This is less richly coloured Brahms than you will hear in Berlin or Vienna, though the sound palette is by no means limited. The Leipzig string-playing can be wintry or warm. Yet when violas and cellos ravish the ear in the Fourth Symphony's slow movement, the ravishment is never bought at the expense of a trademark clarity of texture that renders audible each instrumental line, right down to the contrabassoon's quietest note. The clean, open sound of the orchestra's superb winds also helps aerate textures. The first oboe is outstanding, as are the horns, which happily have not entirely lost their eastern European accent.

In Vienna in the 1880s Brahms symphonies were 'new music', known for the relative astringency of their sound. These Leipzig performances give us a hint of that astringency. Recorded with a fair degree of immediacy in a clean but lively acoustic, it is music-making that provokes more than it soothes. Listeners like the schoolboy in the Punch cartoon, who thought the claret might be improved by the addition of a teaspoon of sugar, should be on their guard.

Back in 1988, Chailly's Brahms was seen as being not especially Italianate. If it wasn't then, it is more so now. His account of the Haydn Variations resembles Toscanini's in the tautness of its argument and its finely adjusted sense of tempo relations within and between variations. In the symphonies, however, the analogy works less well. Where Toscanini in his later years would often harry the music, bending it too much to his will, Chailly's approach is more nearly aligned to Klemperer's, where swift tempi, buoyant phrasing and forward winds are married to strongly drawn lines which move the music unerringly towards its appointed goal.

It is an approach that informs the entire cycle. Weingartner spoke of the First Symphony 'taking hold like the claw of a lion', which indeed it does in Chailly's performance. But, like Klemperer, Chailly brings a similar approach to the first movement of the Second Symphony. The result is a degree of urgency which more pastorally minded Brahmsians might think better suited to the tragic pronouncements of the Fourth Symphony than the 'lion and the lamb' mood of the Second. Yet everything is of a piece. Rarely have I heard so angst-ridden a realisation of the moment towards the end of the first movement where a woodland horn effects an extraordinary dissolution of the germinal D-C sharp-D motif with which the symphony begins. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Richard Osborne Applauds Riccardo Chailly's New Cycle of Brahms's Symphonies
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.