The two Overtures and the Haydn Variations are not included leaving Brahms’s Four Symphonies to occupy a disc each, an extravagant arrangement given Nos.3 & 4, playing here for a total of just over seventy-five minutes, could easily be accommodated on a single carrier; and, just possibly, 1 & 2 as well, eighty-nine minutes, but that may be stretching things too far even if CD lengths are getting longer, eighty-seven/eight not uncommon nowadays.
Such timings, and given that Philippe Jordan observes first-movement repeats in Symphonies 1-3 (no such request in No.4), would suggest that he favours swift speeds. I listened 4/2, 3/1, which coincidentally was Karajan’s preferred order when presenting these works over two concerts, and was surprised at the breadth Jordan gives the E-minor Symphony, and how autumnal (an epithet normally reserved for its predecessor) the first two movements can be, although the Scherzo is appositely muscular, and the passacaglia Finale (launched attacca) is held together without hindering expression and with no lack of passion, although some may find the coda on the curt side and not everyone will like a dynamic swell Jordan introduces towards the end of the third movement.
Recorded during September last year in the very sympathetic acoustic of the Goldener Saal of the Musikverein the sound is attractively natural and reflects Jordan’s lucid balances and clear detailing. His conceptions of the Symphonies, underlined by the sinewy if warm string timbre, violins antiphonal, lean more to Brahms’s classical side than his romantic traits, more lyrical than heroic, which suits Symphony 2 especially well, a flowing and shapely account, embracing an eloquent slow movement and an elegant third, rounded by a rejuvenating Finale.
If, due to tempo and temperament, the outer movements of Symphony 3 don’t quite chart the deep-seated emotions of what is arguably Brahms’s most-complex symphonic essay, then the middle ones are at least full of confiding poetry.
Finally the C-minor First, a palate-cleanser of a performance – nothing stodgy, ‘traditional’ ways of interpreting this music not so much eschewed as not slavishly followed either, and the glory is that come the end – major-key from the minor, light from dark, triumph over adversity – Jordan does what too few conductors manage, Boult, Celibidache and Kondrashin being notable exceptions, which is to do nothing when the motto theme returns. Jordan proceeds in tempo (otherwise the result can be a grotesque and crude signpost, some big names have fallen at this fence) and my listening, however back-to-front it might have been, ended on a high.
Philippe Jordan steps down at the end of the 20-21 season as Wiener Symphoniker’s music director (to be succeeded by Andrés Orozco-Estrada) and doesn’t have far to travel to take up his next appointment – to the artists’ entrance of the Wiener Staatsoper. Meanwhile, Jordan’s Brahms Symphonies are a Wiener Symphoniker release, on WS021 (4 CDs).