Originally published on April 17

Following http://www.colinscolumn.com/herbert-blomstedt-records-brahms-in-leipzig-for-pentatone/ and http://www.colinscolumn.com/herbert-blomstedt-records-brahms-2-academic-festival-in-leipzig-for-pentatone/, Herbert Blomstedt and the Gewandhaus Orchestra complete their Brahms Symphony Cycle for Pentatone with this eighty-one-minute release (from May last year) opening with a magisterial and intense, explicitly recorded, account of the first movement of Symphony 3, nicely lyrical and dynamically tailored; autumnally-tinged, very much, but heightened emotions are in evidence, or certainly smouldering (and, structurally, the exposition repeat is made inevitable). Blomstedt’s in no hurry; whether Brahms would have liked a little more impetus must be conjecture, although he would surely have smiled upon the Leipzigers’ tonal lustre (nothing ‘reduced’ here). The middle movements are perfectly fine, on their own terms, for while both are deeply expressive – with wonderfully sonorous (left-positioned) basses in the first of them, and a luxurious horn solo in the second – there is perhaps too much bittersweet reflection in either when heard as a pair, and anyway this characterisation was already becoming prevalent in the first movement and isn’t much relieved in the Finale, despite the music being embraced with stoic determination. Don’t get me wrong, Blomstedt’s authority is undimmed, the playing is glorious … but the whole is too much an ‘endgame’ performance. (I’ll return to it though.)

If there is a contented if regretful finality to the conclusion of the Third Symphony, certainly here, suggesting no more such works would come from the pen of Herr Brahms, then the Fourth that did emerge, here opens with the Breath of Life itself, Blomstedt cannily combining flowing motion with hearty statements, their variety, sometimes tenderly turned, absorbed into a wholesome first movement that ends with the floodgates open; searing stuff. Following which Blomstedt finds the poetry of the slow movement, not so much indulging it as sharing his faith in it and stressing its beauty without suffocation, and then comes a robust reading of the Scherzo (with excellent timpani detail, from 5:08, as the coda nears). The passacaglia Finale unfolds with dignity, as refulgent as it is delicate (lovely flute-playing in its variation), a noble course somewhat undermined by a sudden if slight speeding (at 9:32) that rather rocks the symphonic boat. Perplexing if thought-provoking. Pentatone PTC 5186 852 is released on May 13.

What next from Herbert Blomstedt? He has previously announced Schubert and Berwald cycles, http://www.colinscolumn.com/once-the-coast-is-clear-of-covid-19-herbert-blomstedt-now-92-will-record-the-schubert-symphonies-and-those-by-berwald-with-the-leipzig-gewandhaus-orchestra/, let’s hope so, whichever label, and, if more Brahms, how about the two Serenades, which I believe would be new to HB’s discography?


Music by a composer Brahms admired:

Leonore Piano Trio records music by Woldemar Bargiel for Hyperion.