In the Naxos Classics (8574465-67) THREE-DISC release of Johannes Brahms four symphonies, Ádám Fischer is at the helm of the Danish Chamber Orchestra, reminding us of what a great conductor he is and what an equally great orchestra he leads.

Listen to the opening movement of the Symphony No. 1 in C minor with its ominous ostinato hammering on the timpani, unequivocally announcing the arrival of a great symphonist and stand (or sit if you are sitting) in awe of a 43-year-old musical genius already at the top of his game.

Once Brahms had waited 25 years to finally premiere his first symphony, the other three followed in succession.

The Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73 harbors the promise of more good things to come from the composer with music that is cheerfully bucolic, even if in its abundant stretches of sunny weather, the remote thunder of summer storms is hinted at in the second movement – marked Adagio non troppo – and dominated by its memorably melancholy melody.  

With the violin concerto, the Academic Overture, and the piano concertos already published and premiered and praised, Brahms had proven to be an inexhaustible fountain of memorable melodies, the Adagietto of the Symphony No. 3 in F Major, Op. 90 – its third movement – among the most inspired of the composer’s creations.

Of Brahms’ four symphonies, the No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98 is the last of his symphonic works, and its fourth movement, marked Allegro energico e passionato, does not go for the kind of race to the finish of many a Romantic symphony, instead creating a jagged, juxtaposition of short phrases that hint at but never completely foretell the movement is coming to an end.

Whoever said Brahms was a stodgy old greybeard should be sent to orchestral music purgatory. I listened to all four symphonies and then focused on one movement from each, once again reminded of why Brahms occupies such a central place in the 19th century pantheon of great symphonists.

Ádám Fischer and his Danish musicians deliver definitive performances of all four of these symphonies, with inspired clarity, utmost flexibility, and unfailing elegance.

Rafael de Acha © 2022

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