Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 4
Kent Nagano, cond; Deutsches SO Berlin
ARTHAUS 101433 (DVD: 96:00) Live: Berlin 2006
Documentary with Nagano
For starters, this performance filmed in concert in 2006 before a live audience in Berlin’s Philharmonie is almost certainly the same performance that can be heard on an audio-only CD on the Harmonia Mundi label where it is coupled with
Variations for Orchestra
. On that topic, I cannot help but extract from a review of the audio CD by a critic, David Hurwitz, who writes for a publication other than
: “Who needs another Brahms Fourth?” he asks, continuing, “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.”
Turning then to the performance, Hurwitz opines, “It is 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.” I agree in full with Hurwitz’s every word, plus I am delighted to encounter a kindred spirit who agrees with the preponderant view that this is a score of gloom and doom.
On the current DVD the Schoenberg is dropped (to the relief of some, no doubt) in favor of a 52-minute—longer than the symphony itself—documentary that is the most imaginative, absorbing, and entertaining of its type I’ve yet to encounter. Even if this were not an outstanding performance of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony—which it is—the cost of the disc repays itself with the documentary alone.
The featured docudrama—for that’s what it is—cleverly weaves together elements of fact and fiction to put a human face on Brahms and at the same time to reveal aspects of the composer’s evolving advances in thematic variation and development and in orchestration, the latter not usually cited as one of his strengths. The film cuts and pastes together as it were imaginary episodes in Brahms’s life with extended scenes of Nagano in rehearsal with the orchestra and extended scenes of Nagano poring over the score in his study, expounding upon various points of interest. Most creative and delightful is an animated cartoon in which the composer and his physician friend Theodor Billroth sit smoking cigars in one of Vienna’s well-known taverns, joking about Brahms’s new symphony. Brahms implores Billroth not to be too critical, to which Billroth replies that as a surgeon he can’t help but “dissect” the score.
In past reviews, I’ve not been very enthusiastic about such productions, but this one has found a way to utilize the DVD medium in a way that goes beyond simply presenting us with a filmed concert. It has won a number of awards, and deservedly so I believe. Strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo / Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Region code: 0 (all)
Menu Language: English, Spanish, French, Japanese
Subtitle Language: French, Spanish, Italian, Japanese
Running time: 44 mins (concert) + 52 mins (documentary)
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 4 in E minor, Op. 98 by Johannes Brahms
Berlin Deutsches Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1884-1885; Austria
Date of Recording: 2006
Venue: Berlin, Germany
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