Brahms Symphony No 4

Conducted by Valery Gergiev

The London Symphony Orchestra present Brahms' Symphony No 4 alongside Szymanowski's Symphony No 4 and his Violin Concerto No 2, featuring pianist Denis Matsuev and violinist Leonidas Kavakos.

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Composed at a mountain retreat in 1884 - about a year after completing the third - Brahms’s architectural musical skill is nowhere more evident than in his fourth and final symphony. The symphony employs baroque contrapuntal techniques and chromatic labyrinths and was described by Hans von Bülow as having the feeling of ‘being given a beating by two incredibly intelligent people.'

For decades Szymanowski’s music was rarely heard outside Poland. Today, he is recognised as one of the country’s greatest musical figures. His desire to embody the music of his native land and his incorporation of the folkloric sounds of the Polish mountains make his orchestral works a must for anyone with an interest in Polish culture and music. Symphony No 4 was one of Szymanowski’s final compositions, dedicated to Arthur Rubinstein and a piano concerto in all but name. His Violin Concerto No 2 was written at the request of Pawel Kochanski and differs greatly from the previous one. The dominant tone of the work is objective and matter-of-fact; there is clarity of thought, a bright, sunny aura and a smile, although there are also moments of delicate lyricism.


Brahms is another composer that needs a fine balancing act between restraint and passion, and the Symphony no. 4 is the most perfect example of this duality in his orchestral music. (...). It certainly put paid to Britten’s insistence that Brahms’ music was “dull”, “stolid”, “pretentious”. (...).

Szymanowski's Symphony no. 4, “Symphonie Concertante” of 1932 is a piano concerto in all but name and as such easily stands up to comparison with the great works by Bartók and Prokofiev of the same period. As performed by Gergiev and his powerful pianist Denis Matsuev, this was a performance that struck one as energetic and bold, but also giving time for the work to breathe and expand as needed.

The secret to performing Szymanowski’s music, so clearly understood by Gergiev in these performances, is to hold onto that fine line between classical restraint and total abandon and then to make it all sound completely spontaneous. This he and his soloist Leonidas Kavakos achieved even more successfully in their performance of the Violin Concerto no. 2 that followed. Gergiev and Kavakos certainly got to its core.

Supported by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute as part of the Polska Music Programme.

Captured live at the Barbican, London, in December 2012 and presented as part of the London Symphony Orchestra Collection.

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