BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98 – Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra/William Steinberg – HDTT

by | Sep 10, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98 – Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra/William Steinberg

HDTT HDCD178, 40:36 **** []:

Transferred from a 1960 Command Classics tape, this reading of the Brahms E Minor Symphony finds William Steinberg (1899-1978) in sanguine form, taking the first movement with unsentimental speed, so that the tango-like subject shimmies with virile languor. Steinberg always elicits a warm glow from his Pittsburgh forces, and I recall having been quite fond of his Emperor Concerto with Firkusny on Capitol. The Pittsburgh cello section, especially, projects an autumnal aura quite piquant, the brass alert and brazenly clear. The contrived aspect of the score–its having been laid out in ascending and descending thirds–finds a refreshed mode in Steinberg’s vigorous, spontaneous approach. There is no denying the fervor that Steinberg achieves in the marvelous stretti of the late recapitulation, the horns blazing, the strings in divided raptures over a solemn, fateful tympani.

The horn naturalizes the F-sharp and D-sharp of E Minor to produce the Phrygian meditation of the Andante moderato, a cool, stately procession. The melodic contour, ever shapely, achieves a singular, soberly generous sound that soon spreads out in E Major. At the conjunction of the melody line over the pizzicati and rolling chords in the bass, the sonority of the Pittsburgh Symphony has rarely been surpassed as it sings, part requiem, part paean to Nature. The C Major Scherzo moves with lithe buoyancy, all interior woodwinds, brass, tympani, and triangle. Again, in addition to the rousing, fierce energy and clear articulation, the essential warmth of the string line never falters.

The passacaglia opens with magnificent clarion effects–an invitation to an antique voyage in stunning colors. The original eight measures move through the series of transformations with effective, sometimes blinding speed, but always the arched tension reigns, the string maintaining the individual pearls. Suddenly variation twelve’s solo flute enters over soft chords in horns and violins, then moving to flute and oboe filigree. Trombones reign in variation fourteen. Steinberg gathers up his forces for the explosive surge to the last variants, relentless and passionate, as directed. The peroration is mounted high, a jubilant celebration of form, of ratio become eros, which is the Brahms legacy in spades. A labor of love in every measure, this performance.

— Gary Lemco

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