Brahms: Symphonies Nos 3 & 4
Just when we’re thinking there really is nothing new to say about Brahms’s Symphonies, things start getting interesting again. First John Eliot Gardiner sounds the challenge (Soli Deo Gloria), then comes Vladimir Jurowski’s refreshing Symphonies Nos 1 and 2 (LPO), followed last year by Riccardo Chailly’s magisterial complete set (Decca). Jurowski’s completion of the cycle has been awaited with some excitement.
Does it live up to expectations? Partly. The freshness, the expressive generosity combined with feeling long evolving paragraphs, the liberating rhythmic vitality – they’re all here, though only intermittently in the Third Symphony. In fact No. 3 takes a while to settle into its stride. The steady, big-river-like current Chailly engineers right from the start takes a while to pick up in Jurowski’s account. By the end of the first movement the music is bowling along terrifically, but we don’t get the strong overview of the Chailly version – and that applies to Jurowski’s performance as a whole, despite the steadily increasing number of treasurable moments along the way.
The Fourth Symphony is more successful, especially the unusually exciting third movement, which for once lives up completely to Brahms’s marking giocoso (‘joyous’). If Chailly steers an elegantly firm course between Classical and Romantic, Jurowski leans more towards the Romantic. Nothing wrong with that in itself, but he does seem to rely more on rubato (drawing out of tempo) to emphasise expression than he did in the first two Symphonies, and in the process the sense of the longer line is sometimes weakened. As with Jurowksi’s earlier disc, the live recorded sound is very good, and I certainly enjoyed the finale of No. 4 enough to feel like joining in the applause at the end.