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Johannes BRAHMS (1933-1897)
Symphony No. 1 in C, Op.68 (1876) [41:35]
Symphony No. 3 in F, Op.90 (1883) [32:18]
Concertgebouw Orchestra (1), London Philharmonic Orchestra (3)/Eduard van Beinum
rec. March 1946, Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London (3); September 1951, Grote Zaal, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam (1)
ELOQUENCE 482 5499 [74:02]

Eloquence has been tilling the soil of van Beinum’s legacy to the advantage of the collector who prefers to pick and choose from the conductor’s legacy. Not everyone wants compendious box sets, after all. This is why a Brahms symphonic coupling such as this may attract admirers of van Beinum’s direct interpretative stance which remains unsullied by any extraneous expressive gestures; it gets to the heart of the thing.

The First Symphony was recorded in September 1951 with his Concertgebouw Orchestra and was the second of his three studio recordings of the work; the earliest came in 1947 and the final one, the only stereo, in 1958. All were with his Amsterdam forces. Despite the mono sound the First emerges with commendable breadth of tone and corporate warmth and all sections of the orchestra play with refined fire. The strings were led by concertmaster Jan Damen, whose solo is eloquent, whilst in the slow movement one can listen to the horns, led by Jan Bos and first flute, Herbert Barwachter. If you should ever tire of hearing these two magisterial players there is always the oboe of Haakon Stotijn to enthrall, like his colleagues then one of the world’s greatest orchestral principals. It may well be true that orchestral incident registers with greater visceral intensity in the stereo remake, but this excellent mono offers just as compelling an architectural argument. This was the work that van Beinum was rehearsing when struck by his fatal heart attack in 1959.

The Third Symphony was recorded with his other orchestra of earlier years, the London Philharmonic. It was recorded in March 1946 and he returned to it in the studio the following decade with the Concertgebouw. Whilst the LPO hadn’t really quite recovered from wartime privations, van Beinum was to build it up effectively and this was one of a number of distinguished recordings he made with it. In some ways there is something sane and almost Boult-like about van Beinum’s Third. As an ex-string player – he was a violinist and had formed a duo with his pianist wife in the 1920s – van Beinum allows the string choirs their moments but never at the expense of proper balance with winds and brass. It, like its successor recording in Amsterdam, also reveals his consistency of vision in this and so much other repertoire.

The transfers are fine and were classy monos in their day.

Jonathan Woolf

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