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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No.3 in F Op.90 (1883) [35:46]
Symphony No.4 in E Op.98 (1885) [38:05]
Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen/Daniel Harding
rec. Studio Stollberger Strasse, Cologne, November 2000 (Symphony No.4) and June 2001 (Symphony No.3)
VIRGIN CLASSICS 3913302 [73:58]

These recordings were made in 2000 and 2001 in Cologne and now reappear in Virgin’s long batch of diverse reissue material. Its original number was 5454802 and the coupling is unchanged.
The world is not lacking in good new recordings of these symphonies much less recordings stretching back to the days of phonographic antiquity but it doesn’t stop the appearance of all and sundry. Harding’s traversals are notable for a rather bleached out, clarified, maybe even objectified tonal sound. They sound, to be straightforward, rather thin. There’s not a trace of, say, Knappertsbusch’s Germanic saturation and whilst I use him as a polar opposite in terms of sonority this does also relate to matters of expression as well. The opening of the Fourth Symphony, for example, sounds rather unengaged and the strings rather pallid in sound. This is a design point – Harding is holding things in reserve – but the disjunction between them acts as something of a gulf and the accumulated tension registers a touch oddly in this quasi-chamber force reading. He is inclined to be withdrawn in the slow movement – not insensitive but a little fitful certainly. The scherzo is by far the best played and conducted of the four – its success is due to requisite rhythmic impetus. Come the finale however and I do find things rather too stolid for comfort.
The Third rather reflects these characteristics. There’s a cool, rather calculating air to the first movement. Despite this there are moments when it doesn’t quite hold as a symphonic argument and nor does the slow movement evince any more of a sense of expressive warmth than the Fourth. There’s a decidedly chilly, remote attitude at work here. It’s in the more extrovert moments here that things work best, where the sense of unbuttoning encourages more extrovert music making. This is most true of the Poco allegretto which demonstrates real virtues of balance and symphonic control and also of much of the finale, which builds up a considerable amount of energy.
Overall however this is an idiosyncratic coupling that can’t merit a more obviously general recommendation.  Available singly the recent Alsop/Naxos performances for instance will, I think, prove more durable.
Jonathan Woolf


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