Otto Klemperer's Brahms needs no introduction. It remains a classic reference edition, one of the very few complete cycles with absolutely no weak links. It's customary to call these performances "granitic", an adjective that certainly applies to the First Symphony but doesn't begin to describe the swift and thrilling finale of the Fourth, the grand but impulsive Third (with its first-movement repeat in place), or the warmly lyrical Second. In general Klemperer's unsentimental but always gripping approach to this music practically defines the word "idiomatic". The Alto Rhapsody with Christa Ludwig also is one of the great ones, while the shorter works share the same virtues as the symphonies.
In February 2001 Abbado and the BPO were guests at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome to perform the Beethoven symphonies. For these, Abbado chose to use a new edition by Jonathan del Mar, which consists of existing manuscripts, and "corrections by Beethoven," which gave the conductor the opportunty to "throw new light on his reading, which takes a consistent and lucid approach to articulation, phrasing and dynamics." The conductor elected to use fewer strings, reducing the bass group in symphonies 1, 2, 4 and 8 to only three double basses and four cellos. He also uses only two horns in symphony 5, three in symphony 3. The result is an uncommonly transparent listening experience. And the performances are spirited to say the least, no dawdling here whatever. There always is a forward impetus to these dynamic performances which are magnificently executed by the orchestra.
One might expect Andrew Manze's interpretations of Johannes Brahms' four symphonies to adhere to ideas of the movement for historically informed performance practice, due to his scholarship and dedication to authenticity in his early music performances. However, and somewhat paradoxically, he and the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra have delivered more or less mainstream readings on modern instruments; there are no signs of late 19th century woodwind or brass timbres, and the strings play with standard vibrato. Yet Manze's historical fact finding has gone to a deeper level than just replicating instrumentation or orchestral scale, and he has found numerous clues to Brahms' intentions in the composer's transcriptions of the symphonies for two pianos, which often vary with the published orchestral scores in accentuation, tempo indications, and phrasing. These are fine points that can be discerned with careful listening and great familiarity with many other recordings of the symphonies, both conventional and historic, but they may not be the main thing listeners will consider in appreciating this set.
This CD captures the impassioned live performances of Brahms’s first two symphonies conducted by the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s Principal Conductor Vladimir Jurowski. Jurowski came to international attention and recognition on disc in 2005 with two Tchaikovsky releases: Suite No.3 on PentaTone and on the LPO label his debut recording Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony, both widely and critically acclaimed releases. As Hugh Canning in The Sunday Times noted 'Jurowski is proving himself one of the rising podium stars, especially in his native Russian music'.
Editorial Reviews - Amazon.com
This was Istvan Kertesz' last major project. Early in the 1960s, he had conducted the Dvorřak symphonies with such authority that he recorded the complete cycle for London–an epoch-making set that's still highly recommended today. For those recordings Kertesz had the London Symphony Orchestra, but his best recordings were made in Vienna. His notorious dislike of rehearsals was bound to appeal to the equally relaxed and tradition-conscious Viennese, particularly when it came to music they knew well. The result is a real musical love-in, with the orchestra the star of the show and the performance some of the best Brahms that money can buy. –David Hurwitz
Szell's performances are very satisfying indeed. His Brahms is robust in strong movements, yet expressive in quiet ones, even if not so deeply embtional as we hear from some conductors. He practically never allows any mannerisms of interpretation… As to the playing, it is very fine; and it is good to be reminded again of this orchestra's soaring violins, its distinguished solo playing, its corporate discipline and rhythm. Very thrilling Brahms. T. H. Gramophone 1973