Symphony No.3 in F, Op.90
Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98
Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen conducted by Daniel Harding
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: December 2001
CD No: VIRGIN CLASSICS VC 5 45480 2
Anyone expecting, requiring or used to the fullest-sounding orchestral sonorities in Brahms may be surprised and/or disappointed on hearing the opening of the F major symphony. The wind and brass blend is mellifluous with strings smaller in number than a ’full’ orchestra; also the lack of vibrato might be heard as a loss of colour. There is though plenty of gutsy attack to match Harding’s transparent revealing of timbres. Antiphonal violins are well balanced across the spectrum, which helps clarify musical argument; playing and articulation is fresh and spontaneous, always responsive to Harding’s persuasive viewpoint.
Harding is a long-term interpreter of Brahms, letting each movement progress through its own naturally motivated momentum. He isn’t afraid to underline or stretch expression when it can be done to heighten interaction and there is no lack of eloquence or depth of feeling; this is all achieved without inflated presentation or losing structural definition.
The Third Symphony emerges as more intimate than usual, and very attractively so. With speeds lightly flowing, the middle movements are especially touching in their wistfulness and sensitivity of execution. Harding reveals Brahms’s confidences by showing how reflective the music is, the orchestra’s chamber-like textures contribute an autumnal glow; there’s a real sense of rapport between the players and they with Harding’s attentive, easeful approach.
These are not laid-back readings, the opening ’free but happy’ motto of No.3 radiates endeavour; it’s simply that Harding doesn’t portray the music as thick-textured or unnecessarily flabby. Instrumental focus and ear-catching details are constantly illuminating, the performances unforced, beautifully balanced and rhythmically buoyant.
If Harding’s Brahms is essentially lyrical and intrinsic, the Fourth’s Olympian scale is achieved through a lucid sense of expressive declaration and orchestral clarity, classical sobriety matching Brahms’s own sympathies. At times, I would have welcomed more depth of string-sound, yet the re-creative purpose renders this doubt as not too important.
These wonderfully unpretentious yet meticulous readings disclose the essentials of the music; the airy, focussed sound complementary. Along with Paavo Berglund’s superb Ondine set, the conversion to a leaner, fitter Brahms is easy when the performers are so committed and communicative.