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Brahms: Symphony No 4; Schoenberg / Nagano, Et Al

Release Date: 01/16/2007 
Label:  Harmonia Mundi   Catalog #: 901884   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Johannes BrahmsArnold Schoenberg
Conductor:  Kent Nagano
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 1 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Try as I might to be objective and let musical values speak for themselves, I confess that I came to this recording in a cynical frame of mind. After all, who needs another Brahms Fourth? And the Schoenberg coupling seems like such an unoriginal gambit at this late stage. You know: Beauty and the Beast, the obligatory obeisance to a historically "important" modern work, but one that is vile in all other respects. We know that Schoenberg admired Brahms as a forerunner of the notion of "developing variation", but does anyone who wants the Brahms also want the Schoenberg Variations? Besides, it's been done before, at least conceptually. There was Dohnányi's Decca Mozart
Read more symphony set, coupled with Webern. Then Inbal did the Schumann Symphonies on Denon with all kinds of Second Viennese stuff attached. It's a tired concept.

Then I listened to the performances. They are fabulous. From the first note of the Brahms, with its rich-toned strings and real sense of impending tragedy, Kent Nagano turns in a reading that ranks with the best. It's impossible to list all of the wonderful moments: the first movement's powerful development section; the magical approach to the recapitulation; the lacerating coda; the Andante's gorgeous lyricism; the whiplash rhythms and uninhibited brilliance of the scherzo; and the perfect balance Nagano finds in the finale between active rage and impassive grandeur.

One example gives an excellent sense of this performance. In the passacaglia (a bit before and after the one-minute mark) Nagano takes special care to bring out the syncopated accompaniment in the horns, and then makes sure that the similar rhythm remains clear when strings have it in the next variation, all the while keeping the bass line audibly present. Finely considered detail placed in the service of the music's long-range continuity--in Brahms that's a sure recipe for success.

Schoenberg's Variations for Orchestra may not win over many converts to the cause, but you won't hear a more beautiful performance anywhere. The orchestra plays with such confidence and with such an acute sense of balance and texture that the music loses much of its forbidding exterior and sounds almost approachable. All of which goes to show that it really ought to be approachable when it's played properly. The exceptionally warm and clear recorded sound is a major contributing factor to the success of these interpretations, particularly in the Variations, which never turn strident or screechy. In the end, though, Nagano and the orchestra can't be praised highly enough for making such a tough program--an overplayed warhorse paired with a piece practically no one loves--so compelling. Will anyone actually buy it? Who knows, but it's a major achievement nonetheless. [11/21/2006]
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less

Works on This Recording

Symphony no 4 in E minor, Op. 98 by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Kent Nagano
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1884-1885; Austria 
Date of Recording: 03/2006 
Venue:  Philharmonie, Berlin 
Variations for Orchestra, Op. 31 by Arnold Schoenberg
Conductor:  Kent Nagano
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1926-1928; Berlin, Germany 
Date of Recording: 12/2004 
Venue:  Teldex Studio, Berlin, Germany 

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