Robin Ticciati / Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Brahms: The Symphonies

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Mainstream performances of the four symphonies of Johannes Brahms tend to reflect the interpretive standards of the mid-20th century -- slow to moderate tempos, a large orchestra with a homogenized ensemble blend, and consistently serious moods -- which have contributed to the similarities of sound and expression in many modern sets. In contrast, Robin Ticciati and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra present a fresh take on the symphonies, offering unusually brisk tempos, a lean ensemble sound with distinctive tone colors, and a sense of vitality and propulsion that is more typical of historically informed performance practice. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra's size is comparable to the small orchestra in Meiningen that Brahms knew, and features of the period's playing style -- portamento, spare vibrato, and crisp articulation, especially in the use of hard mallets on the timpani -- are heard here. More importantly, Ticciati gives the music a strong rhythmic emphasis, assertively highlighting the syncopations and metric complexities that prompted Arnold Schoenberg's essay, Brahms the Progressive. These performances will mostly appeal to fans of period performances, though listeners who think they know the symphonies well should try these recordings, because Ticciati brings out fine internal details that are often buried in conventional readings. Linn's pristine sound quality is a perfect complement to Ticciati's transparent readings. Highly recommended.

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