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Silverline Classics

Johannes Brahms (1833 - 1897)
Symphony #1 in c, Op 68 (1855-76)(!) [41.13]
Variations on a Theme of Haydn, Op 56a (1873) [16.29]
Utah Symphony Orchestra/Maurice Abravanel
Recorded in the Mormon Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, UT, USA, 24 May 1976.
On disk extras: Composer biography, photos and documents of artists, memorial tribute speech by Ardean Watts; "remembering the Utah Symphony Orchestra;"
Technical documentary; Speaker set-up utility.
Notes in English: track list, technical credits.
DVD-Audio tracks, 2.0 stereo; 5.1 surround. DVD video compatible 2.0 & 5.1. ADD
DVD-Audio playable on DVD players.

SILVERLINE CLASSICS 288237-9 [57.50]

Comparison Recordings:
Symphony #1: Charles Munch, BSO [ADD] RCA/BMG 7812-2 RV
Haydn Variations: Antal Dorati, LSO. [ADD] Mercury Living Presence 434 326

Brahms, like Beethoven, composed while walking in the woods. But unlike Beethoven, who plodded determinedly along kicking rocks and scowling at the trees for dropping wet leaves on his head, Brahms ran screaming, howling, flailing, and frothing through the underbrush muddying his shoes, ripping his clothes, and frightening small animals.

To conduct this symphony the conductor must be able to recreate with his orchestra the terrified anguished wail of an animal waking up after the tranquilliser dart to realise itís in a cage ó as well as the aborted triumphant cry of victory when the cage door has been broken open only to reveal that the whole world is a cage and death is the only way out.

In other words, only a Frenchman can understand Brahms, but the French generally donít like Brahms, perhaps for that reason. Enter Charles Munch, an Alsatian ó half German, half French. He gets it exactly right. Abravanel, a Portuguese born in Greece, brought up in Lausanne and educated there and in Berlin, does pretty well, also. Abravanel klempers* a little at times, but, in general he gets it right. This is a well balanced, measured performance with everything where it should be, the wonderful development sections clearly revealed as something Beethoven wishes he could have composed; poor man never even came close. Brahms had the ability to built tension steadily and release it with a single note, something he learned largely from Mozart.** Only, even with this great sound, when the bomb finally goes off, itís only in the kiloton range ó which means Abravanel probably canít quite bring off the Third Symphony either, but his Second and Fourth should be something to watch for, as we are promised a sequential revelation of the remaining symphonies.

The Haydn Variations have much less violence in them. They require only balance, taste, judgement, intelligence and a little verve, and hence come off perfectly well here. This is a stunning performance and, coupled with fine recording give us a grand conclusion to this disk.

I donít mean to disparage the grand German Brahms tradition embodied by Weingartner, Furtwängler, Karajan, Jochum, Harnoncourt, and even Bruno Walter, only to suggest that a double shot of cognac or a glass of champagne would make them the better for it. If EMI were to release their Eugen Jochum complete symphony set on DVD-Audio, they would give Abravanel some stiff competition.

The way you tell a good multi-channel recording is not just that you can hear the echo off the back wall of the auditorium. Itís that you can see not only the width of the orchestra from side to side, but also the depth from front to back. And when you close your eyes you can not tell where the speakers are no matter how you move your head. By these criteria, from listening I suspect this is a two, at the most three, channel tape thatís been electronically pumped up. It sounds good, sure, but thereís one more big step before Parnassus.

*to klemper (v.i.), said of conductors, to set a tempo that is slightly too slow and grind along with it unyieldingly in the face of all that is decent and sensible. Are you listening, O.E.D.?

**And whatís the other big influence on this work? One hundred points if you said the Mendelssohn Scottish Symphony. What famous conductor missed that question?

Paul Shoemaker

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