WORKS: Symphony No. 3 in F; Chamber Symphony No. 1, Op. 9
PERFORMER: Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/ Riccardo Chailly
CATALOGUE NO: 436 466-2 DDD
Adrian Boult, when asked which of Brahms’s symphonies he most enjoyed, would answer: ‘the one I’m working on’. If pressed, he would finally admit a slight partiality for the Third, the shortest, and the only one to fade away into silence at the end. This, he thought, accounted for its comparative unpopularity with concert programmers.
The Third may be less of a crowd-puller than the monumental First Symphony, but from the opening bars it exudes the comforting, weighty lyricism so characteristic of this composer. Chailly opens with a rich and satisfying sound, but with it comes portentousness and a lumbering pace which he has difficulty shaking off. The middle movements are pensive, laced throughout with a delicate sense of wonder, to which Chailly adds an almost Mahlerian pathos. The last movement unifies the performance by casting more than just a token glance back at the drama of the first. The Concertgebouw plays energetically, although the string sound is not quite as sumptuous as you might expect.
Schoenberg’s First Chamber Symphony is an imaginative coupling, particularly since this is the original version for 15 players, not the later arrangement for full orchestra. The sound is very full and complex, as is the music, which sounds like a homage to Strauss through Expressionist-tinted spectacles. It is an exuberant and rewarding performance. Christopher Lambton