Brahms: Symphony No. 4/Janowski SACD

Review by: David Hurwitz

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

Marek Janowski concludes his superb Brahms cycle with this unquestionably great performance of the Fourth Symphony. Everything about it is memorable, stylish, and characterful. The first movement opens at a perfect tempo, and if you don’t thrill to the way the strings bloom lushly in their answer to the woodwinds’ initial phrase at the start of the second subject, then you may need medical attention. This passage reveals just one of the factors that makes Janowski’s Brahms so special: his ability to inflect a phrase, to linger lovingly for just the right amount of time without ever breaking the long melodic line or compromising momentum. There’s another wonderful example at the start of the finale, where the bowed strings come in “largamente” for the first time. So many conductors equate “passacaglia” with rhythmic stiffness. Janowski shows us that you can vary the tempo and heighten the emotional impact without becoming eccentric or sloppy.

In the Andante, Janowski once again finds an ideal tempo (truly “andante moderato” and not “adagio”), and he secures amazingly beautiful playing from the Pittsburgh strings and winds (clarinets and flutes, especially). When the “big tune” returns in the recapitulation, it has a positively Tchaikovskian fervor. The orchestra’s glorious horn section really comes into its own in the scherzo, but then, this is truly great Brahms playing–warm, idiomatic, perfectly balanced, and rhythmically true, just like the conducting. The coupling consists of all the Hungarian Dances orchestrated by either Brahms himself or Dvorák, and they make a wonderful encore. Superbly realistic engineering in all formats provides the icing on the cake. Taken as a whole, this Brahms cycle belongs with the very finest (Levine, Klemperer, Dohnányi), and stands in a class of its own on SACD. [10/10/2008]



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Reiner (Chesky), Levine (RCA)

JOHANNES BRAHMS - Symphony No. 4; Hungarian Dances Nos. 1, 3, 10, & 17-21


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