Brahms Symphonies Nos 1 & 4
This double album of live recordings on the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra’s own label is a mixed success. Mariss Jansons launches into the baleful opening of Brahms’s First Symphony at slow pace. It is almost three minutes before we reach the Allegro, which, like most of the tempos in this reading, is distinctly on the steady side.
In fact, although he misses out the exposition repeat, Jansons’s account of the Symphony’s opening movement is almost as long as some recordings that include it, while several of the gear-changes Brahms demands in his composite finale, with its introduction to an introduction, are distinctly sticky here. The orchestral sonority is correspondingly massive, with certain wind solos and the solo violin that emerges towards the end of the Andante sounding suspiciously ‘spotlit’ by the recording engineers to offset the density. It is all undeniably impressive, but Jansons’s special gift for finding renewed freshness and spontaneity in the most familiar repertory is only fitfully to be heard.
In contrast, it’s clear from the volatile wistfulness with which Jansons phrases its opening bars that he just loves the Fourth Symphony. It helps, too, that the orchestral sound is slightly more distanced and better integrated in this recording – not least, with just the right degree of shimmer in the third movement from the triangle, which all too often can sound like an insistent doorbell. The ambiguous amalgam of ardour, unease and remoteness that compounds the opening movement – with its strange moment of visionary stasis at the point of recapitulation – together with the contrasts of austerity and warmth of the Andante, and the cumulative tragedy of the passacaglia finale are all naturally paced and expressively nuanced. This is undoubtedly a reading to return to.