At the start of the First Symphony, the period instruments of Le Cercle de l’Harmonie are brazen and the timpani strokes are hard and loud. Jérémie Rhorer has his eye on the music’s drama, taking a refreshingly fast tempo for the exposition (repeated) allowing little of the ‘traditional’ flexibility, although there is no lack of expression, passion, and certainly no shortage of excitement. The slow movement is exquisite and coloured in a very particular way – these players have the music’s soul, and they go on to deliver a limpid successor. Rhorer’s handling of the grand Finale (the gap before it is far too long) is as direct as for the opener if a tad more spacious and personal, save for where Brahms indicates otherwise; during the introduction, brasses conjure magical Alpine vistas. Again, it’s not unfeeling or metronomic; rather there is an ink-still-wet quality, the thrill of first discovery and love, excellent playing married to heartfelt and vivid projection, and the closing measures – if not in one tempo (oh dear!) – are uplifting.
In the Violin Concerto, Stéphanie-Marie Degand is the admirable soloist and can take the forward balance she is afforded. There’s no mention of her violin, or whether it has gut strings. The instrument is attractively sweet-toned though, and Degand is an intense performer, digging in, if with light and shade, and she is shapely with the melodies. The first movement (with Joachim’s cadenza, not annotated, fiery from Degand) is perhaps more time-taken than expected; the slow one, graced by a wonderful oboe solo, is poetic; and the Finale dances, injected with paprika, and fuelled by attention-seeking timpani.
The recording (April this year, Aix-en-Provence) is close and dry, dynamically limited, with tangibility and clarity as the winners, although there are a couple of duff edits along the way. This instructive and enjoyable release is on NoMadMusic NMM101 (2 CDs), although the eighty-three minutes could have been accommodated on one disc. Rhorer is essaying a Brahms Symphony cycle, and a Google entry suggests he is also closing-in on Bruckner.