Aureole etc.




Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line




If it’s the Czech works you’re after, do not hesitate

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


CD REVIEW

Some items
to consider

 


New App by the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra for iOS and Android!


BAX Orchestral pieces


CASKEN Violin Concerto

Schumann Symphonies Rattle


Complete Brahms
Bargain price

 


alternatively AmazonUK

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor op. 68 [44:27]
Variations on a Theme of Haydn op. 56a [16:47]
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra/Marek Janowski
rec. live, March 2007, Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh
PENTATONE CLASSICS PTC 5186 307 [61:31]



Marek Janowski recorded a Brahms cycle in the mid-1980s during his period with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. I found this, on its recent reissue, generally impressive with the First one of the highlights but with a disappointing Fourth. It is not stated whether the present issue heralds a new complete cycle.
 
I started by listening again to the Liverpool versions of these two works and it was a pleasure to renew acquaintance with such satisfying performances. In the “Haydn”, each variation is given at a well-chosen tempo with scrupulous attention to the dynamics and phrasing in the score and with warm but never heavy sonorities. At the same time there is a freshness which prevents it from being merely an object lesson in non-interventionist interpretation.
 
The symphony, too, received one of the few really recommendable performances I know, with the first movement repeat, precious few quirks and a fairly mobile slow movement.
 
Twenty years on in Pittsburgh I am impressed above all by Janowski’s consistency. The variations are once again beautifully turned and the freshness has not been lost. The new recording – which I heard as a normal CD – picks up just that little extra detail. When the double bassoon is playing, for example, it really penetrates the texture. Perhaps on account of this the principal woodwind players come across with a touch more personality in Pittsburgh. Janowski, for his part, is a tad swifter in variations 4, 6 and 7. I thought no.4 a shade pushed but no.6 is now wonderfully exuberant, without a trace of the pompousness it sometimes has. As for no.7, it undoubtedly matches Brahms’s “grazioso” marking even more than before. My trouble is that I grew up with Furtwängler and I still find it hard to forego his long-drawn, romantic treatment of this particular variation. Variation 8 is now not just hushed but positively eerie – most impressive. In spite of the “live” provenance of the new recording the finale closes with more elation in Liverpool. I think this just adds up to a very slight preference for the new version but it’s a close-run thing.
 
In the symphony we also note that the Pittsburgh strings have greater weight than those of Liverpool. Less welcome is a tendency for the horns to blare. Janowski is now fractionally faster in the first two movements, a tad slower in the last two. The new performance is a little more excitable than the older one, perhaps because it’s live. This, together with the point I made about the horns, sometimes translates into a sense of inflexibility I didn’t notice in Liverpool. I don’t want to make too much of this since it not likely to worry anyone not making comparisons.
 
Janowski makes few interpretative “points” but it’s fascinating to find those few reproduced identically – the pacing of the last movement coda, for instance. The one movement where I feel he does improve on his former self is the third. It was already very fine but now, with just that fraction more space, every detail of the score is captured yet set in its proper perspective. The outer parts of this movement have scoring of a pointillist delicacy unlike any other orchestral music by Brahms and I’ve never heard them better done.
 
I must say I noticed this was a live recording only when I started to write the header details above. I don’t know if listening on headphones might reveal some muffled coughs but I noticed nothing on loudspeakers – no applause either and full resonance at the end of both works.
 
It might seem a paradox to say that these are among the most recommendable versions available of both works and yet at the same time say the disc hardly needed making. The earlier versions were also among the most recommendable versions of both works and the differences are minimal. In view of Janowski’s consistency over the years I therefore wonder just what this new disc actually adds to the store of recorded music on disc. I rather wish Janowski had been employed in Pittsburgh conducting something he hasn’t recorded yet. Still, here it is, and since it has been made I suppose it supersedes the old recording. Especially for SACD collectors, or those who don’t want to buy a 4-CD set and saddle themselves with a lacklustre Fourth Symphony.    
 
Christopher Howell
 



 


Gerard Hoffnung CDs

Advertising on
Musicweb


Donate and get a free CD

New Releases

Naxos Classical

Hyperion

Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
Alto
Arcodiva
Atoll
CDAccord
Cameo Classics
Centaur
Hallé
Hortus
Lyrita
Nimbus
Northern Flowers
Redcliffe
Sheva
Talent
Toccata Classics


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing
sample
 

Return to Review Index

Untitled Document


Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.