Christoph Eschenbach

Brahms: Symphony No. 4: Haydn Variations; Hungarian Dance No. 5

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Brahms: Symphony No. 4: Haydn Variations; Hungarian Dance No. 5 Review

by Blair Sanderson

Christoph Eschenbach recorded Johannes Brahms' four symphonies and other major orchestral works for Virgin in the early '90s with the Houston Symphony Orchestra, and that set could be considered his definitive statement on these works, since it has been reissued several times by that label and shows no sign of disappearing from the catalog. But that certainly shouldn't preclude Eschenbach from revisiting these classics with other ensembles, and this Hänssler recording of the Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98; the Variations on a Theme of Haydn, Op. 56a; and the Hungarian Dance No. 5 with the Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra perhaps indicates some willingness on his part to give the Brahms cycle another visit. The most important aspects of his approach to the Symphony No. 4 are his fluidity in phrasing and his intelligent use of rubato, for this performance really feels flexible and spontaneous, in the grand Romantic tradition of playing Brahms with elasticity of phrasing, generous pacing, and great surges of emotion. This is not a meticulous and tidy Brahms to suit academic or analytical tastes, but a deeply felt, committed, and ardent Brahms, and Eschenbach never holds back when the music swells and frequently accelerates when the music reaches points of maximum intensity. Eschenbach is similarly subjectively engaged in the Variations on a Theme of Haydn, and his interpretation is imbued with warmth and vitality, and filled with colorful expressions to match the changeability and resourcefulness of the score. The Hungarian Dance No. 5 is played as a robust showstopper, with a sense of fun and playfulness, and Eschenbach and the orchestra clearly enjoyed romping through it, with evident approval from the audience. Hänssler's concert recording is rich and vibrant, and despite the usual applause, coughs, and a few other slight noises, this CD sounds almost as clear as a studio session.

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