The Four Symphonies
Recorded September 2019 in Golden Hall of Wiener Musikverein
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: September 2020
CD No: WIENER SYMPHONIKER WS021 (4 CDs).
Duration: 2 hours 24minutes
The dark introduction to Symphony No.1 moves forward firmly with no over-emphasis and the Allegro is a natural continuation. This typifies Philippe Jordan’s approach to Brahms: firm momentum while always remaining expressive. He has no time for well-worn performing traditions and avoids the ‘soft equals slow and loud equals fast’ habit that can so often spoil these Symphonies. Brahms requires the Allegro of the first movement to be sustained until, seventeen bars before the end, the music reaches Meno allegro. So many performances slow down in anticipation many bars earlier but not Jordan. This unaffected approach informs his interpretations throughout. A firm ‘classical’ line is held, there are no romantic indulgences; a great benefit when it comes to the gentle, unaffected violin in the slow movement. Above all there is no dreadful traditional slow-down near the end of the Finale a mere few bars after Brahms had asked for the tempo to increase. Jordan, but all too few others, keeps the tempo unaltered.
Perhaps the music’s rich sonorities and the spacious sound of the Goldener Saal of the Musikverein brings a glow to Symphony No.2. This is an expressive reading but it remains a performance in the ‘classical’ style. It is unhurried and, as in Nos.1 and 3, inclusion of the extensive first- movement repeat gives time to appreciate the satisfying combination of clear balance and rich acoustic. Only once is impetus lacking – this is at the second subject of the Finale where a confident forward surge would have been preferable. The coda is very exciting.
Classicism suits Symphony No.3. Deep feelings abound in this work; the soulful Andante is often mysterious and the quiet ending to the Finale uses the same material to ask similar emotional questions. The descending strings at the close are a little more audible below the fully scored winds than on many a recording. Jordan is not too concerned with the deep emotions but holds the structure firmly. Mention must be made of the beautifully phrased horn solo in the third movement and the immaculate balance at the powerful climax of the last.
Graceful relaxation is the essence of the Jordan’s interpretation of the Fourth Symphony’s opening Allegro non troppo although he holds the music more tautly than in No.2. It is always a good sign when a performance takes longer over the first movement than the second and there is a hint of urgency in the Andante moderato – a suitable adjunct to the vigorous ending of the first movement. The energetically performed Scherzo is well-detailed except in the case of the triangle. A review once criticised Toscanini’s recording because the triangle sounded “like a fire alarm”. I like it like that, but you don’t get it here. The Finale, commencing without a pause, almost achieves the essential continuity of pulse as so notably do Carlos Kleiber or Arturo Toscanini and Jordan instils considerable drama and stresses forceful moments. The coda is given nobility through its urgent yet strict tempo.