Brahms: The Symphonies
Riccardo Chailly’s second Brahms Symphonies series for Decca (the first was with the Royal Concertgebouw) is comprehensive in its extras and fillers. In addition to the usual overtures, the Haydn Variations and the three Brahms-scored Hungarian Dances, Chailly includes the delightful suite from the Liebesliederwalzer, plus a rarity: two of the late piano Intermezzos in orchestrations by Brahms’s friend Paul Klengel.
The reconstruction of the original pre-publication version of the First Symphony’s Andante is here too; and – possibly a first – the ‘revised opening’ of the first movement of Symphony No. 4. This was a temporary notion to introduce the main theme with three preliminary chords, made at the suggestion of Joseph Joachim – who thought the movement began too abruptly – for some of his early performances.
What of the principal works? They’re very straightforward but also dynamic and dramatic readings, faithful to Brahms’s intentions. Powerfully conceived, they are rhythmically alert, without an ounce of undue sentiment and never for an instant losing sight of the scores’ rock-solid architecture. The Gewandhaus players reward him with magnificent playing, alert and sumptuously rich in sound. One could end the review there – this is one of the most safely recommendable Brahms Symphony sets currently available – but I would single out Chailly’s spacious and poetic view of the First Symphony’s finale, perhaps stressing more than most conductors the ecclesiastical tones of the trombone chorale; by contrast there is the virile, forceful and unmistakably tragic account of the Fourth Symphony’s passacaglia finale, and the sense of wild abandon he brings to the development section in the first movement of No. 3.