A MASTERFUL BALANCE OF STRUCTURE AND EMOTION

Deutsche Grammophon to release Daniel Barenboim’s recordings of the complete Brahms symphonies

On 24 August 2018, Deutsche Grammophon will release a complete recording of Brahms’s four symphonies, played by the Staatskapelle Berlin under the direction of Daniel Barenboim. This is the second Brahms cycle Barenboim has recorded during the course of his career, and it stands as testimony to his intense and ongoing personal engagement with the composer’s musical idiom. Made with the Staatskapelle Berlin, one of the world’s foremost orchestras, his new readings succeed impressively in preserving the inner balance between these works’ highly complex structures and the thrilling emotion inherent to each of them. These are also the first large-scale orchestral recordings to have been made in the Pierre Boulez Saal – the new concert hall in Berlin built on Barenboim’s initiative.

“I will never compose a symphony! You have no idea how it feels for the likes of us to be constantly hearing such a giant marching along behind”, Brahms wrote once to a friend, in despair at trying to compose in the shadow of his brilliant predecessor Beethoven. He overcame his fears, however, and his four symphonies are now ranked among the finest and most groundbreaking orchestral works of the nineteenth century. On 24 August, Deutsche Grammophon will release the complete cycle as performed by the Staatskapelle Berlin and their music director Daniel Barenboim – recordings that highlight the full depth and complexity of the symphonies, and reveal Brahms as a true Romantic Classicist.

The composer’s four symphonies – Op.68 in C minor, Op.73 in D major, Op.90 in F major and Op.98 in E minor – occupy a pre-eminent position in his catalogue and demonstrate his mastery of a uniquely concentrated and extraordinarily vivid symphonic idiom. Form and content here combine to perfection, complex counterpoint and rich orchestration characterising music that falls between light and shade, seeking out new frontiers with a Romantic desire for expression while still adhering to Classical formal designs.

Daniel Barenboim has explored Brahms’s music in depth as a pianist, examining not only his solo keyboard works, but also his songs and chamber pieces. His profound understanding of the composer is apparent in his readings of the symphonies, in which he and the Staatskapelle players maintain the delicate balance between an outpouring of Romantic emotion and an analytical view of the large-scale, through-composed structure. For Barenboim, finding this balance is the greatest challenge in interpreting Brahms.

The Staatskapelle Berlin is one of the oldest orchestras in the world, having been founded almost 450 years ago, and its rich history is reflected in playing that is as seasoned as it is spirited. Daniel Barenboim has been General Music Director of the Berlin Staatsoper since 1992, and was elected conductor for life of the Staatskapelle Berlin in 2000. Under his direction, the orchestra has newly refined its characteristic sound, as can be heard in these recordings of the Brahms symphonies, on which its playing is strikingly transparent and meticulously unified, as well as being notable for its warmth and wealth of colour.

The symphonies were recorded in Berlin’s landmark new concert hall, the Pierre Boulez Saal, which was founded by none other than Daniel Barenboim. This is the first time its impeccable acoustics have been put to use to record orchestral works of this scale.

Barenboim, who has worked closely with Deutsche Grammophon since 1972, signed a new and wide-ranging exclusive contract with the label in March 2018. Over the years the partnership has resulted in an extensive discography, now enriched by this new Brahms cycle – Barenboim’s second, after a 1993 recording with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Brahms wanted his symphonies to be “enduring works”, whose expressive power, form and musical stature would reach far beyond the era of their origins. He unquestionably succeeded in his aim, and these new performances from Daniel Barenboim and the Berlin Staatskapelle serve to underline the timelessness of this music.