Title - 'Brahms: The Symphonies' [4CD]
Artist - Daniel Barenboim / Staatskapelle Berlin
For those not in the classical know, Daniel Barenboim, KBE is a pianist and conductor who is a citizen of Argentina, Israel, Palestine, and Spain.
The current general music director of the Berlin State Opera and the Staatskapelle Berlin, Barenboim previously served as Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestre de Paris and La Scala in Milan.
Indeed, Barenboim is known for his work with the West–Eastern Divan Orchestra, a Seville-based orchestra of young Arab and Israeli musicians, and as a resolute critic of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
Barenboim has received many awards and prizes, including seven Grammy awards, an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire, France's Légion d'honneur both as a Commander and Grand Officier, and the German Großes Bundesverdienstkreuz and Willy Brandt Award.
Together with the Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said, he was given Spain's Prince of Asturias Concord Award. Barenboim is a polyglot, fluent in Spanish, Hebrew, English, French, Italian, and German.
Having just released this wondrous 4CD box-set collection entitled Brahms: The Symphonies via Deutsche Grammophon, it's important to note that the recordings were made in Berlin’s newest hall; the 700-seat Pierre Boulez Saal of the Barenboim-Said Akademie.
With Barenboim, as seemingly now always, alongside the truly wondrous Berlin Staatskapelle, the opera orchestra (that, of course, also plays concerts) combine to ensure some addictive listening, that's for sure.
As aforementioned, Barenboim inherited the Berlin State Opera in 1992, and back then Beethoven was a priority, as well as Wagner. Now it is Brahms’s turn in a cycle of the four symphonies of rare pedigree and depth of musical wealth.
Indeed, an aspect that makes this such an incredible musical venture can be summed up perfectly in the small stuff: such as his use of divided violins, which highlights perfectly Brahms’ antiphonal effects and helps open up the overall orchestration.
This is Barenboim’s second recorded Brahms cycle. The first was with the Chicago Symphony in 1993, just two years after he inherited the orchestra from Georg Solti.
Between the different tonal quality of the Staatskapelle vs. Chicago Symphony and the sense that Barenboim has perhaps lightened his touch, these sound very different than his CSO cycle.
Overall the tempi are similar to Chicago as you might expect (relying on my memory, did not make any comparisons). But with the occasional broadening to let some phrase or section breathe or have more impact.
A rather splendid example is the slow introduction to the 4th movement of Symphony 1. Broadened to devastating impact.
CD 1: Symphony No. 1 in C minor op. 68
CD 2: Symphony No. 2 in D major op. 73
CD 3: Symphony No. 3 in F major op. 90
CD 4: Symphony No. 4 in E minor op. 98
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