Brahms: Symphonies Nos 3 & 4
This CD completes the Hamburg Philharmonic’s cycle of Brahms Symphonies under their Australian conductor Simone Young. Although relatively ‘traditional’ in approach – with little regard for period-performance revisionism – Young’s recording of Symphony No. 2 (reviewed here in December 2012) showed a willingness to reconsider many of the interpretative nuances that have accumulated over the decades and an impressive command of overall direction and form.
Yet the sound of the new disc is more distanced and homogenised, and while Young launches the Third with a true swinging Allegro where other conductors already tend to slow on the second of the opening upbeat chords, she duly jams on the brakes in the transition to the second subject – a ‘tradition’ with no sanction in Brahms’s score. The transition from the middle section back to the main theme of the slow waltz third movement is also held on to at the cost of momentum, though it makes for a touchingly introspective moment in itself.
The finale, however, accumulates real impetus and tension before the release of its sunset final pages. The chaconne-variations of the Fourth Symphony finale are also expressively characterised, with a fine tragic sweep in the peroration. Yet the first two movements, though more than decent, lack an element of mystery. Reliable accounts, then, but with not a lot to single them out from comparable readings by a range of traditionalist conductors from Boult to Haitink.