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.     

Review

Historians believe that the clarinet was first invented around 1700. At the time, composers were demanding more from their musicians, and trumpeters were not able to cope with the fast passages in the ‘clarion’ register, so the clarinet was developed to help them out with the tricky fingerings. At its inception, it wasn’t yet a great instrument. However, some composers started writing for clarinet straight away, including Vivaldi with his Concerto Grosso of 1711.

Swedish clarinettist Martin Frost wondered – what if the clarinet had been a better instrument in its earliest days? What would Vivaldi have written? Maybe something like his vocal works, allowing the three registers of the clarinet to sing? With the help of instrument specialists and the always brilliant Concerto Köln, Frost has created three new ‘Clarinet Concertos’ using Vivaldi’s operatic works.

The soaring beauty of the clarinet is perfect to bring new life to these arias and while maybe their Concerto elements could be argued, it’s immediately apparent that something truly charming has been created. What is particularly interesting is that Frost uses a modified chalumeau – a predecessor of the modern clarinet – in these works. With extra key work added to facilitate the tricky passages, the interplay between Frost’s mellifluous clarinet sound and the Concerto Köln’s bouncy Baroque accompaniment makes you wish Vivaldi had been afforded more opportunity to write for the clarinet.


Kate Rockstrom is a friend of Readings.

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