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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68 (1876) [50.25]
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73 (1877) [42.55]
A Portrait of Semyon Bychkov [57.19]
WDR Sinfonie-Orchester Köln/Semyon Bychkov
rec. August 2002 (No. 1), April 2004 (No. 2), Kölner Philharmonie. DDD
ARTHAUS MUSIK 101 243 [92:01]


These performances of Brahms Symphonies Nos. 1 and 2 were recorded two years apart, in 2002 and 2004, without audience in the smart new Philharmonie in Cologne. The greatness of the music is a prime attraction to any prospective purchaser of the DVD. The discerning listener is unlikely to be disappointed by either the performances or the sound.

Semyon Bychkov exudes a rapport with both his orchestra and Brahms’s music. Tempi are well chosen and there is a good line of development, of the ebb and flow of tension and relaxation, as the symphonic line unfolds. Of course that means very different things in each of these symphonies, as the epic grandeur of No. 1 and the more pastoral ebullience of No. 2 are captured idiomatically.

The sound is rich and warm and individual brilliance is not lacking when it is required. In both symphonies the dexterity of the woodwind players is a marked triumph, while the brass and strings add a pleasing weight of tone. The finale of the First Symphony, a movement that can all too easily outstay its welcome, has a noble sweep of momentum even though the tempo is not the fastest. Therefore when the final climax is reached, it feels as though it is the cogent outcome of the struggles over which it has triumphed.

The Second Symphony allows the Cologne strings greater opportunity to display their lustrous tone and tight ensemble. The phrasing of the large-scale first movement is expertly handled, so too the darker character of the slow movement; for this is a symphony that contains a wider range of expression than is commonly supposed. In the third movement intermezzo there might have been a lighter touch in both rhythmic pointing and recorded balance, but the manner still befits the performance. Likewise the finale is full of exuberance, and of drama besides.

The DVD direction by Hans Hadulla is sensitive to details of the orchestral contributions, though as so often with these matters, he is rather fussy on detail at the expense of the larger view. For example, the superimposition of images one upon another is a feature that is somewhat overdone.

The accompanying documentation is above average, with some intelligently compiled material, while the accessing of the disc is well supported in the booklet too. It seems a pity that more issues don’t attain these standards.

The extra material is devoted largely to the glorification of the conductor. Good luck to him - and his concern for artistic matters is never in doubt - but something about Brahms would have been welcome.

Terry Barfoot

 

 



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