Brahms: Symphonies 3 & 4
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Brahms: Symphonies 3 & 4

Richard Tognetti, Australian Chamber Orchestra

The two final symphonies of Johannes Brahms are undisputed masterpieces: passionate, intensely lyrical, a thrilling blend of grandeur and intimacy. In the hands of Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra, these soaring yet deeply personal works spring to life, revealing new delights at every turn.

For these performances, the ACO has expanded to include the unique colours of wind instruments from Brahms' own world. The resulting sound, in the words of the Sydney Morning Herald review, was ‘a revelation: superbly blended horns and trumpets without the bright blare of a modern symphonic sound, an agile, liquid tone from flutes and clarinets and a gorgeous warmth in the lower wind and brass, all matched with a string sound with a bold but never harsh attack.’

With a total size of around 50 players, these recordings show the ACO at its fullest strength, well beyond its usual compact forces, yet maintaining its trademark clarity and vitality. This is in line with the Brahms himself, who refused to allow the orchestra to be augmented beyond 48 players for the premiere of his Fourth Symphony.     


There is nothing in the world quite like an electrifying live performance. I know we have all been missing that feeling of sitting in the middle of the music, hearing the orchestra breathe together and create something new from centuries-old compositional masterpieces. There is a reason these works endure for so long, and while the concert halls are still closed, this beautiful live recording from the Australian Chamber Orchestra might allow you to close your eyes and imagine you are there again.

Brahms is well known for having destroyed a number of his works towards the end of his life, as he had an obsession with perfection. Many people agree that the four of his symphonies that survived are some of the most perfect works ever written (in which case, I guess he achieved his goal). Although the ACO are primarily a full-time string orchestra, in my years reviewing their work I have always loved their full orchestral recordings. For these full orchestral works, the ACO invite players in the woodwind, brass and percussion sections of some of the best orchestras around, and it shows in the warmth of the sound and easy ensemble playing.

This Brahms recording is the most luscious I’ve heard in years, and hopefully when concerts start up again we can have more of these live recordings to make up for the missed time.

Kate Rockstrom is a friend of Readings.

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