Classical Album of the Week: Barenboim and Brahms

Sep 17, 2018

September 17, 2018. Newly released by Deutsche Grammophon, Daniel Barenboim’s interpretation of Johannes Brahms’ four symphonies with the Staatskapelle Berlin is our Album of the Week.

In the United States, Daniel Barenboim’s name is closely associated with the Chicago Symphony, where he was music director from 1991-2006, and with whom he recorded the Brahms Symphonies in 2000. Since 1992 he has been music director of the nearly 450-year-old Staatskapelle Berlin, an orchestra which remains less well-known than the Berlin Philharmonic, due in part to its location in the former East Berlin and less relative exposure under decades of Communist rule.

For over a quarter-century Barenboim has consistently raised the international profile of the historic German ensemble, which is also the official orchestra of the Berlin State Opera, through touring and recordings of both orchestral and operatic repertoire.

Their latest offering continues that mission.

Barenboim as conductor and pianist never takes a hasty approach. Nuanced phrasing and color, and the unhurried building of tension in a musical line, are his hallmarks. Well-considered balances and warm phrasing bring a magisterial quality to these renderings of the Brahms Symphonies. This is shown to beautiful effect in the Symphony No. 3 in F major, the most “pastoral” of the four, where each orchestral section, each phrase, and each movement is allowed to bloom in shimmering color, and the symphony builds to a satisfying whole.

A little faster in general than his tempi in the Chicago Symphony Brahms recordings, Barenboim shows a slightly more nimble approach in these performances, though Chicago Symphony devotees may miss the bold, overwhelming sound (especially from the famed brass section) of Barenboim’s Brahms with the American ensemble.

Recorded in the brand-new Pierre Boulez Seal in Berlin, the Berlin Staatskapelle displays a richly textured, layered, and golden sound in their Brahms. Our Album of the Week will please Brahms lovers and fans of Daniel Barenboim. It’s sure to make new fans for the Berlin Staatskapelle as well.