> Johannes Brahms - Symphony No. 1 [TB]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 1
Tragic Overture
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Kurt Masur
Recorded May 1994 (Symphony No. 1), February 1995, Avery Fisher Hall, New York
WARNER APEX 09274 43512 [58.57]


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When the New York Philharmonic Orchestra decided during the 1990s that they needed to 'go back to basics', they appointed Kurt Masur as principal conductor in order to focus more centrally on the mainstream repertoire. And repertoire does not come much more mainstream than Brahms.

Therefore this reissue is particularly interesting, and it has many strengths. The main one is that the interpretation and the playing carry real weight and conviction. The recorded sound aids and abets this commitment, which makes the project very compelling and worthwhile, for there is clarity in the individual lines, and resonance in the fully scored climactic passages.

All this is apparent right from the beginning, which is appropriately massive and powerful. From there the first movement reaches its Allegro and a stubborn forward propulsion, with interludes of some atmosphere, including the woodland evocation of horn calls. The slow movement likewise has keenly judged tempi from a master of his art, and the solo role of the violin is beautifully balanced.

While the third movement intermezzo can sound more sophisticated, more fleet footed than this, Masur's judgement is still sure, and this is further confirmed with the atmospheric slow introduction to the finale. Here the original Teldec recording comes off particularly well in this new identity (we are not told if there has been any remastering). The great finale theme carries all before it of course, and while the ebb and flow of tension and relaxation has sometimes been even more imaginatively handled than here (try various Karajan performances, for example), when one hears Masur one remains convinced of the music's sure direction.

The Tragic Overture does not quite come off with the same effectiveness, though it is good enough. This feels more of a safe studio performance than a real occasion with everyone on the edge of their seats. The playing is first class, as we would expect of the New York orchestra, but neither the conductor nor the orchestra give the impression that this is a matter of life and death.

As a whole this is a worthwhile issue which offers very good value at bargain price.

Terry Barfoot

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