Kent Nagano

Brahms: Symphonie No. 4; Schoenberg: Variations

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Pairing Johannes Brahms' Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98, with Arnold Schoenberg's Variations for Orchestra, Op. 31, is an interesting notion, not only because both works have in common variation forms, as well as motives borrowed from Bach, but also because many of Schoenberg's concepts were derived directly from Brahms and can be identified through close comparisons. Kent Nagano is not known particularly as a Brahmsian, but rather more as a conductor who specializes in modernist repertoire, including Schoenberg's works; so if you were to assume that Nagano arranged this CD's match-up, you might regard it as an attempt to elucidate the Variations through association with the symphony, or to give Schoenberg's music some exposure by coupling it with a classic. However, these performances were recorded two years apart, so it's debatable whether Nagano planned the program, or if it fell to the producers to make the decision. But in any case, the coupling works well, and the two pieces are complementary and of equal interest, if quite different in mood and style; it would be a shame if the Variations were dismissed as mere filler. Nagano and the Deutsches Sinfonie-Orchester Berlin deliver clear and coherent performances of these protean works, and the contrapuntal textures that dominate both are transparent and easy to follow. One may quibble with Nagano's straightforward, business-like approach to these works, and lament the lack in places of a Viennese lilt that would make these readings more appealing; but that may be the only lapse in what are otherwise valid and powerful interpretations. Harmonia Mundi's reproduction is exceptional, and the orchestra sounds vibrant and resonant in these studio recordings.

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