Brahms, Joachim

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COMPOSERS: Brahms,Joachim
WORKS: Symphony No. 4 in E minor
PERFORMER: Oslo PO/Mariss Jansons
The beginning of Mariss Jansons’s Brahms Fourth rouses high expectations: here’s a performance that promises to be ardent and utterly unselfconscious without removing the modifier from Brahms’s tempo instruction of Allegro non troppo. As the first paragraph builds, so do one’s hopes – only to be let down at the launching of the second subject. Conductors from Furtwängler and Toscanini to Norrington and Mackerras allow natural momentum to carry over into a crisp, energetic statement of that triplet-inflected fanfare. Not so Jansons. He prefers to pull back to something like the opening tempo here, which satisfies the demands of decorum and clarifies counter-rhythms but inhibits the intensity of which the Oslo Philharmonic is manifestly capable. Klemperer and Knappertsbusch had the knack of getting orchestras to play with ferocious abandon even in apparently sluggish tempi, but that weapon is not yet part of Jansons’s arsenal, and as a result the first movement makes a rather spotty impression. The inner movements combine breadth, urgency and lyricism in pleasing proportion, and much of the finale receives a distinctively expressive treatment; portions of the closing section, though, are less than ideally cataclysmic. Although I’m very glad to have lived with this beautifully recorded performance for several weeks, numerous other modern accounts – among them Carlos Kleiber’s fluidly forceful one – offer more consistently absorbing views of this score. The too-infrequently performed filler, Joseph Joachim’s concert overture to Henry IV (1854), yokes Mendelssohnian lightness and lyricism with uncanny anticipations of Strauss’s Don Juan. David Breckbill