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Brahms: Symphonies Nos 3 & 4 (Leipzig/Blomstedt)

Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Herbert Blomstedt (Pentatone)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Symphonies Nos 3 & 4
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Herbert Blomstedt
Pentatone PTC 5186 852   80:38 mins

Even by the standards of a profession famous for its longevity, Herbert Blomstedt’s staying-power is a phenomenon: he conducted these recordings in April last year, aged 93. A former principal conductor of Leipzig’s Gewandhaus Orchestra (while merely in his seventies), he retains an honorary position with them, and the players’ respect for his brand of seasoned musicianship is evident at every point. And something of this orchestra’s fabled traditional sound – an emphasis on mellow shading, rather than the technicolor projection so widely favoured elsewhere – has survived unmistakably through recent decades. Exceptional recording quality, at once unexaggerated and hyper-vivid, captures these players’ circle-squaring ability to combine superb technical clarity with rounded warmth of tone. The gorgeous tawny sound of the divided violas in the Fourth Symphony’s Andante moderatosecond movement is one of many such moments.

Even so, there’s a feeling here of something missing. You won’t hear lovelier playing of Brahms’s music, nor clearer presentation of its ceaselessly inventive inner workings. What doesn’t come across as strongly is how these are two of the greatest symphonic masterworks ever to have been written down. The Third Symphony, generally the more equable-natured of the two, loses out less in this respect. But in the Fourth’s tumultuous Allegro giocoso third movement, the music’s sheer wildness isn’t fully conveyed. And the finale’s variation sequence here doesn’t leave you feeling awestruck at its relentless cumulative power, in the way that a top-flight interpretation unerringly does.

Malcolm Hayes

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