WORKS: Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4
PERFORMER: Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen/Daniel Harding
CATALOGUE NO: VC 5 45480 2
The Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen uses modern instruments, but with a maximum of 50 players for this disc it approximates to the kind of small orchestra that sometimes played the Brahms symphonies when they first appeared – notably the Meiningen court orchestra on which both these scores were first tried out, and which introduced Symphony No. 4 on a German tour jointly conducted by Brahms and von Bülow. (We should resist, however, the idea that Brahms wanted small orchestras: he trusted the Meiningen players with premieres because he was confident of their musicianship.) Certainly these readings are often unusually intimate, without necessarily sounding small-scale. The textural clarity imparts a chamber-music feel, and the lean, wiry sound suits many of the fast contrapuntal passages in the two finales and No. 4’s scherzo. On the other hand Harding imparts an admirable surge to the first movement of No. 3 and a satisfyingly tragic drive to the passacaglia of No. 4 (where he secures some exquisite playing in the pathetic major-key variations).
That said, my impression is of efficient rather than profoundly felt interpretations, good for studying the music with some detachment but not greatly involving. Whether a conductor as young as Daniel Harding can really bring to late Brahms the fullness of experience that can awake the music to entire life is no idle question. Estimable though they are, these interpretations are unlikely to displace any of the classics – Boult, Klemperer, Karajan, Carlos Kleiber in No. 4 – among the multitude of competing versions. Abbado’s accounts of these symphonies, though on separate discs, would still be my first recommendation among modern versions. Calum MacDonald