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.