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The Berliner Philharmoniker have a closer and more intensive relationship with Johannes Brahms than with almost any other composer. He appeared with the orchestra as conductor and pianist in the 1880s and 1890s, and after a guest appearance with the Philharmoniker in Vienna, declared that he had never before experienced such a “perfect rendition” of his Second Symphony. The performances with Hans von Bülow, who led the Philharmoniker to world fame as their chief conductor, left a deep impression. The composer’s music was then as much at the centre of the repertoire for Wilhelm Furtwängler and Herbert von Karajan as it was for Claudio Abbado and Sir Simon Rattle. Kirill Petrenko, chief conductor of the Philharmoniker since 2019, presented Brahms’s Fourth Symphony in the opening concert of the 2020/21 season and stressed in an interview that an exploration of the composer was to be one of the central projects of his future work with the orchestra.

In 1853, Robert Schumann wrote a euphoric article in which he predicted a great future for Johannes Brahms, especially as a creator of orchestral and choral works. The composer, who was 20 years old at the time, had until then only presented chamber music, lieder and piano pieces. Schumann’s prophecy was to be fulfilled; however, it was not to happen until many years later. Brahms, for example, approached the symphony with self-doubt in view of Beethoven’s revered example, and only completed his First Symphony in 1876 and at the age of 43 after a long process of development. Consequently, his oeuvre in the large-scale classical genres with four symphonies and three solo concertos (which are supplemented by the double concerto for violin and cello) remained quantitatively modest.

Johannes Brahms had already made his breakthrough to recognition by music specialists and audiences before his symphonic genre debut with the deeply moving Ein deutsches Requiem, which was premiered in the version known today in 1869. This playlist brings together the famous orchestral works of Johannes Brahms in performances by the Berliner Philharmoniker. The series of conductors ranges from Herbert von Karajan to Kirill Petrenko, and the pianists Krystian Zimerman and Leif Ove Andsnes plus the violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann perform the solo concertos.

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