Brahms Symphony 4 Alt-Rhapsodie Schicksalslied HerrewegheJohannes Brahms

Symphony no. 4 – Alt-Rhapsodie – Schicksalslied

Ann Hallenberg, mezzosoprano
Collegium Vocale Gent
Orchestre des Champs-Elysées
Philippe Herreweghe, conductor

PHI, 2016

This recording of Brahms’s Symphony no. 4, of the Alt-Rhapsodie and of Schicksalslied celebrates the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Orchestre des Champs-Élysées and the fiftieth year of activity of Collegium Vocale Gent. As for other works released by Philippe Herreweghe’s label PHI (we recently reviewed Schubert’s Symphonies no. 2 & 5), this recording offers a wonderful rendition of the three works, performed by the above mentioned orchestra and chorus under Herreweghe’s conduction and with a guest of honour: mezzosoprano Ann Hallenberg, who joined the musical forces in the Alt-Rhapsodie.

In the booklet, Philippe Herreweghe explains the combination of orchestral and vocal works with the fact that «the trajectories of the Orchestre des Champs-Élysées and Collegium Vocale Gent have always been closely linked», so that they have been able «to mount and record a considerable number of masterpieces of the repertoire with a deep-rooted shared aesthetic». More important that this, however, is the fact that the two ensembles have influenced each other, so that «the choir of Collegium Vocale has applied itself to the task of incorporating into its approach vertical, rhythmic precision and true, non-tempered intonation, two of the qualities to which the orchestra aspires, while the preponderance of text and vocal phrasing and articulation, indeed even pronunciation, has profoundly influenced the discourse of the orchestra, permeating to the very core of its instrumental technique».

Brahms ‘s Symphony no. 4

In Herreweghe’s rendition, the Symphony no. 4 in E minor is a gem. His conduction is characterized by incisiveness and insight. Every movement is minutely developed thanks to the choice of the right tempo and to the inner coherence of each piece. In this way, the expression of many, coincident and sometimes conflicting feelings is carried out with precision and lucidity, to which the rich sound of the orchestra adds a wide range of nuances.

The recording of the Symphony took place in April 2015 at the Muziekgebouw Frits Philips, Eindhoven.

First Movement

The first movement (Allegro non troppo) reveals mellow orchestral colours which make it vivid and intense. Every group of instruments has its own independent “voice”: bold and blazing for the brasses, silky for the strings and fluid for the woodwinds. Anyway, this autonomy does not prevent an harmonious blend and this movement is remarkable for cohesion and unity of intent.

Second and Third Movement

In the second movement (Andante moderato), Herreweghe elicits from the orchestra some wonderfully soft playing. Its brilliant tone is not at all diminished and actually it brings to the movement a delicate and lyrical depth. The same brightness recurs in the third movement (Allegro giocoso), but with a significant difference. Thanks also to Herreweghe’s brisk conduction, this movement is energetic and positive and the orchestra, that shortly before was so effective in conveying the idea of melancholic feelings, now is sparkling.

Fourth Movement

The fourth movement (Allegro energico e passionato) is sumptuous, but for its dark colours it reminds of the first movement. Herreweghe infuses it a sense of impending tragedy that the groups of instruments develop widely. The strings express painful feelings, while the woodwinds are delicately conciliatory and the brasses are blazing. This is really the movement that reveals the influence of «preponderance of text and vocal phrasing and articulation» on the Orchestre des Champs-Elysées.

Brahms ‘s Alt-Rhapsodie & Schicksalslied

The Alt-Rhapsodie and the Schicksalslied were recorded few years before the Symphony, in July 2011.

Mezzosoprano Ann Hallenberg is the main reason of interest of the Alt-Rhapsody. This remarkable singer, who few years after the recording of this work came into the limelight with albums as Farinelli and Carnevale 1729, reveals here another side of her artistry. Far from the virtuosic displays of the Baroque repertoire, Hallenberg performs the Alt-Rhapsodie with profound sensibility and intensity. In her soulful singing, expressiveness and technical skills are absolutely noteworthy. Also her timbre, dark and luminous, makes her suitable for this work. The male singers of the Collegium Vocale Gent are remarkable for the elegance of their voices.

Schicksalslied finally presents the Collegium Vocale Gent in its entirety. This piece, often critized for its compositional lack of homogeneity, finds in this chorus an ideal interpreter thanks to its technical skills and transport. The female singers, in particular, are angelical.

Conclusion

This recording of Brahms’s Symphony no 4, Alt-Rhapsodie and Schicksalslied must be praised for its expressive unity and for the high quality of the performances of its performers. Everything here is thoughtful and balanced to reach perfection and actually this is one of few cases when it happens.

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