Daniel Barenboim / Staatskapelle Berlin

Brahms: The Symphonies

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The Staatskapelle Berlin is one of the European orchestras whose primary mission has been opera. The group has increasingly played symphonic repertory as well, but perhaps there's a dramatic orientation toward their work. Whatever the explanation, the orchestra was the perfect vehicle for Daniel Barenboim's latest thinking on the Brahms symphonies. His readings are broad and detailed, with the four symphonies differentiated almost as if they were operas. The Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73, fully emerges here as the Pastoral Symphony answer to the explicitly Beethovenian Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68; sample especially the finale, a massive, intoxicated dithyramb. So it is all the way through; the passacaglia finale of the Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98, is no incipient neo-Baroqueness but a sweeping piece of pure impulse (which makes sense, given that Beethoven thought of Baroque forms this way). This is arch-Romantic Brahms, untouched by contemporary minimal thinking, and it seems to have decades of tradition behind it even if Barenboim's association with this orchestra is fairly recent. It is also a triumph of the conductor's art, worked out vividly in even the smallest details. These live performances, recorded at the Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin, have immediacy and power, and it may be that what Barenboim has accomplished here was not really suited to studio work.

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