Brahms: Symphony No. 3 in F; Symphony No. 4 in E minor

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Symphony No. 3 in F; Symphony No. 4 in E minor
PERFORMER: London Classical Players/Roger Norrington
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 56118 2 DDD
Brahms, himself a passionate enthusiast of early music, would doubtless have been amused by the thought that, scarcely a hundred years after his death, his music was being subjected to the revisionist attentions of ‘early music’ specialists. Yet this is hardly surprising. For all its progressive features famously identified by Schoenberg, Brahms’s music was viewed by others no less illustrious as an end rather than a glorious beginning. So, whether or not an authentic tradition of performing Brahms has been corrupted by the passage of time, there’s nothing inherently absurd in the notion of applying performance practices more obviously appropriate to earlier music, especially when the achievements, as here, are so persuasive.

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Wilhelm Furtwängler once identified an ‘objective’ quality to Brahms’s music in that it was answerable only to its innate musical substance. Roger Norrington is the ideal man to bring out this quality, without any loss of personality. His tempo proportions are always apt and painlessly at one with the overall discourse. For once, Brahms’s often maligned orchestration proves itself ideal for the task in hand: his woodwinds enter into genuine dialogue with the strings rather than threatening to dissipate the music’s ongoing thrust, and the brass, though at this period no longer valveless, clarify rather than clog. We may think that we don’t need further new recordings of this repertoire, but, as with his already released recordings of Brahms’s first two symphonies, Norrington’s insights and instinctive musicianship show us that we do. Antony Bye