One had wondered just how many people would brave Saturday's snowstorm at its height to hear even so distinguished a group as the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra playing two Brahms symphonies.

But the near-capacity audience knew what it wanted, the snow be damned, and delivered a 12-minute standing ovation at the end, after the Fourth Symphony.

Under its music director, the eminent Kurt Masur, the Gewandhaus had just played the Fourth's tremendous final passacaglia -- perhaps the grandest combination of intellectual and emotional intensity in the whole Brahms canon -- with great drive and concentration.

Not only has this able East German ensemble played a major role in German music, its sound is also intrinsically German. It is not as flashy as the top American orchestras or even today's Berlin Philharmonic. Strings have less edge and presence than these virtuoso ensembles, and the brass have much less bite or power. As a result the winds -- so crucial in the Brahms symphonies -- voice much more easily, not having to force their sounds.

It was a considerable advantage in the rhapsodic Third Symphony. Those immense two opening chords, for instance, are normally dominated by the bright brass sound of our ensembles; Saturday night, we heard mellow wind-dominated sonorities.

Of the four Brahms symphonies, the Third, with its long sweet lyric phrases, is the one that benefits most from this easy sound. And Masur paced it with beautifully thought-out give and take, lingering here and there, without slackening the pulse.

The majestic Fourth profits more from the more hard-edged virtuosity of, say, the Berlin or the Chicago. And the first three movements on Saturday night, though sensitively clarified, were a little short on this great work's excitement. All the harder, then, to explain the brilliance of the finale.