Symphony No. 1; Violin Concerto
Stéphanie-Marie Degand (violin); Le Cercle de l’Harmonie/Jérémie Rhorer
NoMadMusic NMM101 82:23 mins (2 discs)
Jérémie Rhorer and period instrument orchestra Le Cercle de l’Harmonie are likely to ruffle many feathers with this release. In Brahms’s First Symphony, instead of the measured and more Romantically charged interpretations of a Karajan, Abbado or Blomstedt, in the outer movements the composer’s dynamic and almost Beethovenian control of rhythm is emphasised. The smaller instrumental forces create a much more transparent, fleet-of-foot orchestral texture than is possible with a modern symphony orchestra. All these aspects of the performance are compelling and illuminating, especially when Brahms’s writing is at its most intense and highly-charged. But in the more reflective lyrical passages, both in the outer movements and the Andante sostenuto, there are times when a slight relaxation of tempo and a more fluid approach to rubato could provide necessary contrast and prevent the performance as a whole sounding unyielding.
In stark contrast, the opening tutti to the first movement of the Violin Concerto is far more relaxed and expressive, Rhorer no doubt responding to its expansive and sunnier character. There is an excellent rapport between soloist Stéphanie-Marie Degand and the orchestra, with impeccable ensemble and some wonderfully mellifluous wind playing in the slow movement. Degand negotiates all the tricky passage work with tremendous aplomb. But the double-stop passages in the first movement sound a little brutal to my ears and despite the high-octane appropriately paprika-laden energy of the Finale, her approach is a tad relentless and unsmiling.