Brahms: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 4

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: LSO Live
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 4
WORKS: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 4
PERFORMER: London Symphony Orchestra/ Valery Gergiev

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Recorded live at the Barbican in December 2012, these are middle-of-the-road traditionalist readings without notable eccentricities – but then, these scores must be so familiar to the LSO players that they could doubtless produce creditable performances without any conductor at all. Compared with Bernard Haitink’s 2003 LSO recording of Symphony No. 3 on the same label, Valery Gergiev sets a slightly more urgent, swinging tempo for the opening movement, and the sound he gets is a little brighter and rougher than Haitink’s more blended textures. But no amount of recording wizardry will ever make the Barbican acoustic sound flattering.

Gergiev ends the first movement with a sustained slow-down, unmarked by Brahms, and he evidently accedes to the current fashion for taking the Poco Allegretto third movement with sighing languor, though he is by no means as slow as some. In any case, Brahms refused to add metronome marks to his scores and seems to have welcomed contrasting interpretations. Just occasionally one misses genuinely quiet playing where Brahms asks for it, and the fluttering strings in the finale’s sunset peroration are rather covered by the winds.

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Similar comments could be made of the reading of Symphony No. 4. Gergiev brings an expressive flexibility to the phrasing of the first movement, though his gear changes in the chaconne finale are not always as convincing as in Haitink’s noble and more beautifully played version. These are reliable new accounts without rising to anything very personal or special. Bayan Northcott