The Brahms Symphony discography began on November 28, 1923, when the LSO and Felix Weingartner started to record No.1 for the Columbia Phonograph Company, it was continued the following March, and it’s been a steady growth ever since, now swelled further by Michael Sanderling and his Lucerne orchestra, 2021-22, each of the five works given a separate disc; these are expansive readings.
Starting with Symphony 3 (thirty-nine minutes), the opening is boldly stated, time is on the music’s side, and phrasal generosity doesn’t preclude passion, the playing warm, honed and committed as well as detail-conscious, the highlight being the eloquently turned Poco allegretto third movement.
Symphony 2 (forty-seven minutes). Sanderling stresses the lyrical nature of this wonderful work, beautifully shaped and intensely sustained, the heart of the music, and this performance, being the soulful Adagio. Some may find the final movement a little dour.
Brahms/Schoenberg (forty-three minutes). This wacky orchestration (especially the percussion-coloured Finale) of the G-minor Piano Quartet (Opus 25) receives a lively and affectionate outing delighting in Schoenberg’s scoring.
Symphony 4 (forty-five minutes). The first movement is especially lofty in this spaciously songful reading, although its final measures are somewhat emotionally restricted, if not the second movement, heart on sleeve. Following a reined-in if rhythmically pointed Scherzo the passacaglia Finale is flexibly delivered, maybe at-odds with the rigorous writing, and, cued by the flute variation, becomes sleepy, if awoken for the conclusion.
Symphony 1 (fifty minutes). Schoenberg aside, without knowing it I was saving the best until last, an impressively sustained interpretation that moves from tragedy to triumph with inevitability and much satisfaction – if with slowing and acceleration in the traditional places and manner –, largesse too, delivered with the right sort of tension all the way to a blazing conclusion, if unfortunately not traversed in one tempo; the sting in the tail.
These are wholesome (Sanderling observes exposition repeats in the first three Symphonies, there’s no such option in the Fourth), rich-sounding – plenty of strings with at least eight basses (personnel listed) without covering the woodwinds (the contrabassoon is often highlighted) – and generously romantic accounts of these masterworks. Although offering few revelations this is honest and focused music-making led by the youngest of Kurt Sanderling’s three musician sons (all conductors) that is a pleasure in itself, which I mostly found persuasive and pleasing. Warner Classics 5419748237 (5 CDs) is released at budget price.
Edgar Moreau with Lucerne Symphony Orchestra & Michael Sanderling record Transmission for Erato – music by Bloch, Bruch, Korngold, Ravel.