Valery Gergiev / London Symphony Orchestra

Brahms: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 4

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The energetic Valery Gergiev is hardly known as a Brahms specialist, but Brahms symphonies began to show up on his London Symphony Orchestra programs in 2013, and the present release on the orchestra's own LSO Live label captures several of those: each recorded performance is put together from a pair of concerts, a week apart, with each symphony recorded on successive nights. For those expecting interpretations in line with Gergiev's background as an operatic conductor, think again. His Brahms is almost airy, with clarity of contrapuntal line the paramount value. The final passacaglia of the Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98 has rarely had so little implacable dark momentum but rarely so much explication of the mind-boggling contrapuntal and thematic linkages that so endeared the movement to Arnold Schoenberg. Both symphonies are curious readings that at times seem almost unemotional, but it gives the wind and brass players of the LSO plenty of chances to show their stuff. Gergiev also has a way with the group's sometimes temperamental strings; here they have a feathery grace that fits the overall concept beautifully and is rendered well by the orchestra's engineers. File it under offbeat readings, if necessary, but this is Brahms fully worthy of its illustrious interpreter.

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