Brahms: Symphony No. 4 in E minor

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: DG Originals
WORKS: Symphony No. 4 in E minor
PERFORMER: Vienna PO/Carlos Kleiber
CATALOGUE NO: 457 706-2 Reissue (1981)
Herbert Blomstedt’s account of the Fourth Symphony, his first recording since his appointment to the Leipzig Gewandhaus, is impressive. It is very much of the old school; warm, relaxed and humane. Yet there is a splendid grip and a compelling sense of narrative and momentum. It seems to me to hold Classical poise and Romantic intensity in an almost ideal balance. Every phrase means something but is never invested with excessive feeling, and the final passacaglia has all the power and concentration you could ask for. It is one of the most carefully thought out, yet spontaneous seeming versions to have reached the catalogue for quite a while. The various a cappella motets make an unusual and welcome bonus and are very well sung and expertly balanced. The recorded sound in the symphony, while not perhaps state-of-the-art (there is some glassiness in the upper strings), is still very good.

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Artistically, Carlos Kleiber’s celebrated account from 1981 is a benchmark recording if ever there was one, and the early digital recording holds up reasonably well, even if the texture sounds less transparent than in the new Leipzig recording. DG offers no fill-up and even though this is a performance of stature, masterly in its command of the overall architecture of the piece, readers might legitimately feel that it offers short measure. Robert Layton