Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra/Manze(CPO)
Andrew Manze, well known as a baroque violinist, broadcaster and former director of the English Concert, has been branching out into the symphonic repertory with his orchestra in Helsingborg, and on this evidence the results are really remarkable. You don't often find freshness and innovation in performances of the Brahms symphonies, but Manze's take is wholly individual: they burst with life, by turns wistful, yearning, sharp-edged and blisteringly incisive. The string sound of the Helsingborg players is not noticeably sweet (which takes the edge off the soaring start of No 3), but this has the result of setting in relief some exceptional wind and brass solo playing (in the mellow second movement of No 2) and some very unusual balances (clarinets, bassoons and horns in the andante of No 4). Transparency and contrast are stressed, rather than the homogeneity and blend usually favoured, which makes the fierce argument of No 1, throwing fragments across the orchestra, almost cinematic in its intensity. The antiphonal writing in No 4 is similarly vivid and strongly characterised, and the pent-up tension reaches an electrifying release in the brittle chords of the final pages of the great passacaglia. Manze's vision provides more than an "early music" approach to Brahms: this is the composer reinvented for the 21st century.
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