John Eliot Gardiner

Brahms: Symphony No. 4

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Several conductors associated with period-style performances of Baroque and Classical music have turned their batons to Romantic works, trying out what is known of authentic 19th century practices on repertoire that has otherwise been burdened by 20th century interpretations. In this 2010 release by John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, attention is focused on the Symphony No. 4 in E minor by Johannes Brahms, notwithstanding the first nine tracks, which offer shorter works by Beethoven, Gabrieli, Schütz, Bach, and Brahms as a warm-up. These tracks serve as an excellent sampler of what Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir, and the orchestra of original instruments usually record, with an emphasis on early music and particularly choral works. All the same, approach the performance of the symphony with the foreknowledge that Gardiner likes his tempos quite brisk, a string tone with minimal vibrato and a characteristic timbral sheen, and a lean and transparent ensemble sound -- all features that are apparent in the opening selections -- and then decide if this is too jarring a transformation for this work. Many who grew up with conventional readings of Brahms will miss the rich, burnished tone that was fostered for decades by many eminent conductors. Gardiner's version is really spare in textures and even busy-sounding, as if the musicians are in a hurry to zip through the work. As a result, many things are glossed over, especially Brahms' brilliant interplay of rhythms. There is precious little of the glowing sonorities that have become associated with Brahms' final symphony, and Gardiner's clipped accents and fast tempos seem almost too brusque for this famous autumnal work. Listeners who feel that a streamlined approach to the Brahms symphonies is long overdue will rejoice, but for others, Gardiner's choices will be controversial, perhaps even more than his daring innovations in performing Beethoven.

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