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Many London music lovers will consider themselves lucky to have sampled the Chailly/Leipzig Brahms cycle live at the Barbican this week – it climaxes next Tuesday and Wednesday – but those who missed out can find consolation in these studio recordings.
Chailly treats the symphonies to the same brush-down he gave Beethoven two years ago, and the result is equally invigorating.
There’s not a whiff of Germanic stodginess, but nor do you feel the music is being unnaturally pushed. Chailly’s tempi, faster than 20th century tradition and always consistent within themselves, bring out the “classical” in Brahms, and the Leipzigers’ performances – wonderfully lithe as well as meltingly lyrical – are a tonic (try the opening movement of the Second Symphony or the Third’s Poco allegretto).
The four symphonies fit on to two CDs, with a third devoted to overtures and a couple of rarities – Brahms’ orchestration of nine Liebesliederwalzer (Love Song Waltzes) and his original version, later modified, of the First Symphony’s slow movement. Fascinating.
Leipzig Gewandhaus/Riccardo Chailly
(Decca) 3 CDs
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