Amanda Forsyth performs Brahms’s Double Concerto and Symphony No. 4

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COMPOSERS: Johannes Brahms
LABELS: Analekta
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms
WORKS: Double Concerto; Symphony No. 4
PERFORMER: Amanda Forsyth (cello); Orchestre du Centre National des Arts du Canada/Pinchas Zukerman (violin)
CATALOGUE NO: AN 2 8782

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All right, this isn’t normally the way I’d want to hear Brahms’s Double Concerto played. I like a bit more edge in the sound, and I definitely prefer the first movement as a real driven Allegro. (Unusually Brahms forgets his typical restraining ‘non troppo’.) But this performance is so beautiful that in itself that’s a revelation. Both Pinchas Zukerman and Amanda Forsyth know how to make a rich, deep, seductively winning sound, but there’s far more here than sensuous allure. Brahms’s long lines are beautifully shaped: the melody architecture never sags, however measured the tempo. And the sense of intimate dialogue between the soloists reaches a ravishing climax at the heart of the slow movement – perhaps the nearest thing Brahms ever composed to an operatic love duet. Brahms’s orchestration, too, seems transformed: I can’t remember ever hearing this Concerto sound so warm, rounded and velvety textured. If that doesn’t sound like the Double Concerto to you, then I’d urge you to hear this. It may not ultimately be a library recommendation, but it has important things to tell us about a work the concert-going public still seems unwilling to love. 

There are similar qualities in Zukerman’s Fourth Symphony. The sense of overarching line isn’t quite so strong: I certainly don’t feel the sense of mounting tragic momentum that Carlos Kleiber brings, not only to the finale but also the seemingly exultant scherzo that precedes it. But at almost every stage this performance is shamelessly gorgeous: the slow movement’s second theme has rarely sounded so tenderly alluring.

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Stephen Johnson