Brahms Symphony No.4 and Larghetto for Orchestra by the Scottish composer James MacMillan

REFERENCE RECORDINGS has released a hybrid SACD featuring two recordings by the Pittsburg Symphony Orchestra dating back a couple of years, one of Johannes Brahms Symphony No.4, opus 98 and in the same SACD one of the Larghetto for Orchestra by the Scottish composer James MacMillan. Manfred Honneck conducts and contributes the extensive liner notes. Dirk Sobotka is the producer. Sound/Mirror engineered the album.

After Maestro Honneck’s extensively researched notes accompanying the recording I have little to add in the area of musicological insights. This is the last of Brahms four symphonies – a large work that ranks among his best creations: a fine example of the kind of pure music at which the Austrian master excelled at age 51, when the work premiered, emotionally charged and yet lacking any sort of underlying narrative or program, a mature work by a steadfast classicist, perfectly structured, impeccably orchestrated, melodically inventive, neither breaking any rules nor re-inventing the wheel.

Manfred Honneck elicits a powerful performance from the Pittsburgh ensemble in both works, one balancing attention to dynamic details, attentive to balance, elegant to a fault.

James MacMillan’s Larghetto for Orchestra is one of those contemporary compositions that does not stint on melody – a plaintive, elegiac, cantabile one given mostly to the Pittsburgh superb string section until brass and percussion erupt one third of the way only to retreat and reappear once more. MacMillan’s unabashedly tonal work, unbeknownst to me before this recording, is unquestionably deserving of recognition.

The REFERENCE RECORDINGS SACD is available as both hard copy and download from Reference Recordings

Rafael de Acha     ALL ABOUT THE ARTS