ALBUM TITLE: Brahms
PERFORMER: London PO/Marin Alsop
Marin Alsop’s Brahms Third Symphony has most of the virtues of her Nos 1 and 2, but I rather felt a lack of power in the outer movements, though they are elegantly paced and shaped.
The waltz-music of the first movement development dances vivaciously enough, however, and the elegiac epilogue to the finale is movingly done.
The inner movements are undeniably excellent: the smooth, creamy sound Alsop conjures from the winds in the second rather conceals the music’s village-band affinities, but the whole span of the movement is lovingly shaped, and the melancholic aspect of the contrasting chant-like theme is sensitively brought out.
In the Poco Allegretto third movement, Alsop takes what seems an unusually slow initial tempo but then – as if treating the opening bars as an extended upbeat – she moves smoothly to a quicker principal one.
Throughout, the performance is testimony to the remarkable rapport she has developed with the Bournemouth Symphony, but it just fails to make it to the top bracket of performances of this much-loved and recorded work.
If my admiration for Alsop’s performance of the Symphony here is only middling, her reading of the St Antony Chorale Variations is very fine indeed, among the best currently available. She brings unusual depth and sobriety to the Siciliano Seventh variation and builds a really noble culmination in the concluding Chaconne.
One can’t deny that as a budget-price coupling of both works this is much more than just acceptable. The benchmark in the Symphony for me, however, is Mariss Jansons’s incandescent reading with the Oslo Philharmonic, generously coupled with Symphony No. 2, unrivalled for the fine shading of dynamic contrasts, and there are many other good alternatives such as Abbado (DG) and Chailly (Decca).