Harnoncourt Gives a New Sound to
By Eric Taver
19 February 1998 - This
new recording will shake up received opinion with respect to Brahms.
Behind these fundamental pages of the symphonic repertoire, usually
played as if they were musical monuments carved in stone, Nikolaus
Harnoncourt wanted to find a more nimble Brahms, particularly a less
intimidating one. Now 68 years old, the Austrian conductor started his
career in the 1950s by returning to Bach his baroque colours; in the
1980s he reminded us that, beneath all the apparent gracefulness,
Mozart's music was deeply tragic; he then wanted to resuscitate the
feelings of violence and shock that Beethoven and Schubert were able
to evoke in their contemporaries. In an imperturbable chronological
order, Nikolaus Harnoncourt has thus enlarged his repertoire, and the
breadth of his audacity, to the second half of the 19th century.
discover a First Symphony that still seems to be looking forward from
the sensitive romanticism of Schumann, the tutelary God of the young
Brahms. Here the structure does not asphyxiate the spontaneity of the
melodies. We lose the majestic aspect of the legendary interpretations
of Klemperer or Furtwängler, certainly, but we gain this Brahms
who renounces big orchestral explosians and becomes almost friendly.
In the Second and Third Symphonies, Harnoncourt chisels the details,
to the detriment, it is true, of large-scale architectural
progression; he nonetheless makes us aware of the play of rhythms and
sonorities too often hidden in the mass of sound.
success of this set is certainly the Fourth Symphony. While we often
emphasize the pastoral character of the Second or the heroism of the
Third, we usually consider Brahms's last symphony as a piece of music
in its absolutely pure state. Nikolaus Harnoncourt, impressive for his
knowledge of baroque music, draws out the dance rhythms, often of an
earlier period as the passacaglia, with which the score is strewn,
making it infinitely less austere. The tempi are supple, the melodies
naturally songful, the progressions obvious. We no longer recognize
In addition to all these surprises, there is the
warmth and virtuosity of a Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra engaged in an
adventure (but which seems to have forgotten the silky homogeneous
sound so patiently constructed by Karajan): here is a set to which
Brahms lovers will not be indifferent, and that might even charm all
those who, repelled until now by the cold and calculating aspect of
the composer, will discover against all expectations a music that is
sensitive, charming and danceable, a profoundly human music.
Symphonies n° 1 à 4.
tragique; Ouverture académique; Variations Haydn.
Philharmonique de Berlin
Nikolaus Harnoncourt, chef
Teldec 3CD 0630-13136-2
et 77. DDD. Live 1996, 1997.
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