Brahms Third Symphony – a well-kept secret

Brahms wrote his Symphony no.3 in F major in 1883, at the height of his career. Though it was a great hit with nineteenth-century audiences, very little is known about the sources of this mature work today. We do know that the notoriously secretive composer wrote it in Wiesbaden, a picturesque Rhine resort, and that he wrote it over a period of four months. This was fast work, compared to his first symphony which took twenty years to perfect!

Listening to the Budapest Festival Orchestra perform the shorter third symphony under Ivan Fischer’s baton, I am struck by how very cohesive and perfectly formed the 3rd Symphony is. There is only one word for the first ten bars, which evoke so many contrasting emotions – knockout! Woodwinds and high brass are followed by a thrilling descent of impassioned violins. The mood is exuberant, whimsical, worrying, even slightly unhinged! 

Other more subtle elements weave their way into Brahms’s musicscape – beautiful rocking, whirling melodies that are so seductive and short that they make us yearn for more. Brahms knows how to rein in his romantic side, but when he lets go, you hear it, as with the Wagneresque strings in the Andante. In Poco Allegretto, the passion is toned down, leaving room for a tender melody which is sustained beautifully by different sections of the orchestra.

The Serenade no. 2 in A major meanwhile, is the product of a much younger Brahms, one who was experimenting with orchestration at the beginning of his career. I love the freshness of this work; the pastoral scenes it paints, the upbeat, get up and dance moments, also the serious slower Adagio which Clara Schumann so loved.

With this recording, Iván Fischer, founder and Music Director of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, brilliantly rounds off the Brahms Symphonies Cycle for Channel Classic. Highly recommended.

KH

Brahms Symphony no.3Serenade no.2, is released on Channel Classic Recordings June 11th 2021

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