Symphony 3

~ Release group by Brahms; Gardiner


Symphony 3Brahms; GardinerCD10
  • GB2009-09-01
Soli Deo GloriaSDG 704843183070428


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When one thinks (if one does) of the period performance movement, it's generally baroque and perhaps classical music that spring to mind; by the time we've reached the 19th century symphonies of Brahms, we expect them to be played on a large modern orchestra. As a result, this period instrument interpretation of Brahms 3 from John Eliot Gardiner will be a surprise to many. Once you've adjusted, though, the enjoyment to be gained from this superbly performed disc, which includes some of Brahms' wonderful and rarely-heard choral repertoire, is enormous.

Gardiner founded the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique in 1989, with the aim of bringing to the music of the 19th and early 20th centuries the same stylistic accuracy which baroque music had enjoyed for a couple of decades. Whilst the thick gut strings do make a difference, it's in the woodwind and brass sections that the change is most pronounced, the brass sounding rougher and the winds reedier. It's a shock but, once the senses have acclimatised, it's a real musical ear-opener and the most extraordinary contrast to the freshly-released Berlin Philharmonic version (EMI) with their fuller, more smoothly polished sound.

The Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique sounds undeniably rougher around the edges, but the payoffs are manifold. In comparison to the weighty magnitude of the Berlin Phil, the symphony's first movement here sounds like a gloriously energetic bound down an Austrian hillside. There is far more edge and lightness, the textures are sharply delineated - you really do hear every note - and there's considerably more pace. The chord at the top of the opening crescendo doesn't quite have the same satisfying sense of climax that a modern orchestra can give, but the descending motive springing from it contains real forward drive. The slow movement delivers warm phrasing and string portamentos, but in a cleaner, more lithe interpretation than the usual. Then, the Finale is a dramatic tour de force, the cello section sounding so hairy-chested as to make the Berlin Phil's cellos sound positively New Man - Harrison Ford versus Orlando Bloom. Throughout, there's the satisfying phrasing that Gardiner excels in, with melodic lines and their accompaniments shifting and undulating to a satisfying degree.

With the choral performances, Gardiner has veered off the beaten repertoire path to great affect. Brahms' female-voice repertoire is sadly under-performed considering the gems he wrote, as 'Es tont', with its haunting harp and horn accompaniment, shows. This and others, such as the mixed-voice orchestrated Nanie, are as beautiful as they are interesting. The Monteverdi Choir sing these Romantic texts with the same religious fervour as they devote to Bach's Cantatas.

Riveting, enlightening and enjoyable in equal measure.