RECORDING OF THE YEAR
W I N N E R Brahms The Symphonies
Against robust competition in the Orchestral category from Abbado’s Bruckner First and Petrenko’s Shostakovich Fourth – either of which would have made a worthy alternative winner – my theory is that Chailly’s Brahms cycle with the Gewandhaus Orchestra snuck past the winning post because of Chailly’s rare talent for transforming the utterly familiar into music ripe for rediscovery: you can’t help but take notice. The landscape is re-primed and mapped afresh. Familiar landmarks have the accumulated expressive debris of nearly a century of recorded history swept away. Your wits are sharpened; you listen again. For Chailly, all music must aspire to be ‘new music’ again.
Exhibit A: the first movement of the Third Symphony. As floating serenade-like clarinets establish the movement’s second subject-group you wait for that by-now customary gear change of tempo. You wait, but it doesn’t come, and checking the score you understand why – Brahms didn’t write one. And suddenly the movement is lent a taut structural integrity that pays real dividends as Chailly journeys towards the development section.
Exhibit B: the Academic Festival Overture. Too many conductors forget to look beyond the first
In Riccardo Chailly’s hands, Brahms’s familiar landscapes are mapped afresh
Brahms The Symphonies Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra / Riccardo Chailly Decca M c 478 7471 (10/13) Producer John Fraser Engineers Richard Siney, Eike Boehm, Henrik Eibisch 156 votes word of Brahms’s title, and instead begin the work at a dawdling tempo that invokes memories of Alfred Hitchcock waddling into shot to the strains of Gounod’s Funeral March of a Marionette. But the word ‘festival’ is there too! And Chailly’s sprightly, skipping tempo paints Brahms’s overture in a coat of many joyous, festive colours.
Exhibit C: Brahms’s passacaglia driven to the max in the finale of the Fourth Symphony. Chailly gives careful consideration to how the 30 variations function as a unified narrative. The ground bass doesn’t just underpin, it actively informs the rest of the harmony and structure. Those plummy Leipzig Gewandhaus trombones become the hub of the movement – chorales burning bright.
Chailly’s pacey tempi allow Decca to fit all four symphonies on to two CDs, with the third CD then becoming a keepsake of related Brahmsian memorabilia. The First Symphony’s Adagio time-travels towards an anticipation of the harmonic purview of early-period Arnold Schoenberg. Around such connections between old and new worlds are Riccardo Chailly’s interpretations built. Philip Clark
12 GRAMOPHONE AWARDS 2014
CLASSICAL MUSIC AWARDS 2014