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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op 68 [44:45]
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73 [39:33]
Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie/Edouard Lindenberg
Recorded at St.-Martin Kirche, Minden, Germany in 1969. ADD
WARNER APEX 0927 49879 2 [84:16]

In what appears to be a closet cleaning exercise, Warner have given us a pair of discs that begs my oft-posed question: "Why?" It has started to really baffle me as to why record companies dredge up inferior old recordings of standard repertoire and foist them upon us as a viable option. This is a classic case in point with these sometimes excruciating performances of Brahms’ first two symphonies.

We are in trouble from the minute the horns enter in the first movement of Op. 68. The intonation is so off that it would cause a sensitive listener to run for cover. Couple that with the seemingly endless introduction before we even arrive at the main theme, and you have a performance that would send everyone in the room running for popcorn before the end of the exposition. Edouard Lindenberg keeps things running at a decent tempo for the rest of the movement, but he does little to correct the intonation problems and there are times when they are just too much to bear.

Things fare better in the solemn second movement, and the principal oboist and clarinetist turn in some rather appealing solo work. One could wish for a bit more forward motion, however, as any sense of line and movement seem to be an afterthought. The movement is rounded off nicely with the famous solo from the concertmaster, ably played.

Hopes for improvement in the third and fourth movements are dashed by some continuously dreadful intonation and a propensity for turgid tempi, effectively killing the music. I cannot recall hearing worse brass playing by a professional orchestra than in the what-should-be gorgeous set-up to the fourth movement chorale. This splendid introduction is murdered in cold blood by horrendously out of tune brass.

Perhaps because it is not nearly so difficult a work technically or that the Northwest Deutschlanders were having a better day than during sessions for the first, Brahms’ second symphony come off considerably better. Without boring readers with a blow-by-blow description of each movement, it will suffice here to say that many of the intonation problems prevalent in the performance of the first symphony are cleared up in the second. There also seems to be a more urgent sense of communication in this performance, with lines shaped a bit more lovingly and tempo choices a bit more compelling.

Having said that, however, this is still not the playing of a first tier orchestra, which brings me back to my original question: "Why?" Why does a record label feel the need to reissue thirty-five year old recordings by a second tier orchestra under a relatively unknown conductor, playing repertoire that is so over-represented in the catalogue? With the wealth of really fine recordings of these works available, there is no need to clutter the shelves with these.

Skip this one for a set that is trustworthier.

Kevin Sutton

Gerard Hoffnung CDs

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