Following on from John Eliot Gardiner’s critically acclaimed recordings of the symphonies of Beethoven and Schumann, SDG are proud to be releasing the first disc in a new series exploring the music of Johannes Brahms. Recorded live during last autumn’s Brahms and his antecedents tour, and showcasing the four symphonies as well as Brahms’ major choral works, this series is an important milestone for SDG heralding the development of the label beyond the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and the Renaissance choral repertoire which have so far dominated its catalogue. The first release in the series coincides with the second part of Gardiner’s project, which will be touring extensively in Europe in the autumn.
Brahms’ large-scale music is brimful of vigour, drama and a driving passion - says John Eliot Gardiner in his introductory notes. One way to release these characteristics is, for the conductor, to set his symphonies in the context of his own superb and often neglected choral music, and that of the old masters he particularly cherished and studied (Schütz and Bach especially) and of recent heroes of his (Mendelssohn, Schubert and Schumann). “This way”, says Gardiner, “we are able to gain a new perspective on his symphonic compositions, drawing attention to the intrinsic vocality at the heart of his writing for orchestra”. Composing such substantial choral works as Schicksalslied, which also features on this release, gave Brahms invaluable experience of orchestral writing years before he brought his first symphony to fruition. Solemnity, pathos, terror and jubilation are all experienced and encapsulated before they come to a head in the finale of the first symphony.
The conductor himself chose the illustrations for the covers of this series, paintings by Sir Howard Hodgkin (who is Gardiner’s first cousin), as the layers of intense colour in the acclaimed painter’s work seem to Gardiner to perfectly match the marvellous different layers of sound in Brahms’ orchestra. Inside the same elegant packaging used for the Bach Cantatas CDs, the liner notes feature an in-depth conversation between John Eliot Gardiner and composer Hugh Wood.