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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No.1 in C, Op.68 (1876) [42.31 + 47:28]
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.73 (1877) [38:50]
Symphony No.3 in F Op.90 (1883) [33:33 + 35:30]
Symphony No.4 in E, Op.98 (1885) [39:39]
Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15 (1854/58) [45:22]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 83 (1878/81) [47:15]
Serenade No. 1 in D major Op. 11 (1858) [43:46]
Serenade No. 2 in A major Op. 16 (1859) [33:10]
Walter Gieseking (piano: 1)
Géza Anda (piano: 2)
Südwestfunk-Orchester Baden-Baden/Hans Rosbaud
rec. 1950-62, Hans-Rosbaud-Studio and Kurhaus, Baden-Baden, Germany
SWR CLASSIC SWR19069CD [6 CDs: 407 mins]

This is the seventh release devoted to Rosbaud’s SWR broadcast recording legacy. Its focus is firmly Brahmsian but not everything taped over this 12-year period is new to disc. I should mention a caveat before beginning. I am working on a review copy that contains a tracking error. On CD6 there’s a performance of Brahms’ Third Symphony. Almost at the end of the first movement one can hear a tiny dropout just before the movement ends at 10.58, then there is a gap of a few seconds until the ending is reprised from 11:03, this time without that fractional dropout. I understand that replacement copies are being produced but you would probably be advised to listen to this passage, if you can, to ensure you have the corrected version.

In addition to both Piano Concertos, the two Serenades and the Second and Fourth Symphonies there are two performances each of the First and Third Symphonies. This is not mere redundancy or duplication. In both cases the performances reflect something of the state of Rosbaud’s health in the last couple of years of his life. The differences between the two Thirds are notable but those between the two Firsts are dramatic. They were taped in 1955 and in 1960, the earlier is more linear and lithe, the latter more horizontal and with greater dogged, inexorable force. The slow movements are beautifully delineated, though there’s greater phrasal amplitude in the 1960 reading and even the Allegretto is less grazioso, more reserved in 1960. It’s by no means unprecedented for a conception to have changed so powerfully in only five years but this is a particularly visceral example.

There is a similar sense of expansion in the Third Symphony but not to the same degree. The earlier tape comes from 1956, the later from September 1962. In the 1956 reading the WDR winds are full of fervor and the music’s filigree is largely unfettered; the later version reveals a more marmoreal bass line, and a less eloquent wind choir. The music seems to have shrunk back to its core. The Second Symphony was taped just one week before Rosbaud’s death in December 1962. Pierre Boulez was the concert and is quoted in the booklet notes as recalling that Rosbaud was so weak he could only give the orchestra the beat. Its sense of reserve and measured gravity is palpable and by analogy with the other two symphonies it’s very likely that it represents only the late Rosbaud approach; that a 1955 taping would almost certainly reveal a more incisive and life-affirming view. The Fourth Symphony comes from November 1958 and receives a warm, lyric performance with a slow movement kept at a relatively flowing tempo, but which is so well prepared that it can expand nobly when required. The Serenades occupy the third disc and come from January and December 1958; eloquent, well-proportioned and balanced and thoroughly satisfying readings.

I’ve reviewed Géza Anda’s reading of the Second Concerto when it appeared on Hänssler CD94.208. Unfortunately, the recording is bisected across two discs here. The performance of the First with Gieseking is very similar to but seems to be different from that on Tahra 409-12, which dates from March 1953, if Tahra’s documentation is correct. I’ve seen a date from a presumably different performance of the work from December 1951. SWR’s live performances comes from January 1950 and as noted elements remind me strongly of Tahra’s though SWR’s original tape is clearer and more defined.

Hartmut Lück’s notes are perceptive and are well worth reading and the box has been compiled with the kind of attention to detail firmly established by previous editions. There’s a critical consensus that Rosbaud was an admirable, selfless musician and this corpus of his Brahms also raises extra-musical interpretative questions worth pondering.

Jonathan Woolf


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