Bernard Haitink conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Brahms’s great orchestral works, including the complete symphonies. The concertos feature three great soloists: pianist Claudio Arrau, violinist Henryk Szeryng, and cellist Janos Starker. "No one, I trust, will deny that Arrau has lived with, wrestled with, and in a truly terribly way ’known’ the D minor Concerto for more years than most of us can consciously recall. Where contemporary pianists have often tended to refine or domesticate the concerto, withdrawing it from the world of heroic endeavour, Arrau has always done the reverse. No pianist, apart possibly from Serkin in his several recordings, has communicated so formidably the work’s scope: its seriousness and its anxious, tragic mood. Often Arrau makes free with the text. But the vision is huge, the technique astonishing. Haitink is a worthy accompanist."
As complete sets of Brahms piano music go, it's hard to get more complete than this set by Martin Jones on Nimbus. Jones includes not only the canonical two Rhapsodies, three Sonatas, four Ballades, six sets of variations, ten Hungarian Dances, sixteen Waltzes and twenty-eight short piano pieces, but also the almost forgotten sarabandes, gigues, gavottes, studies, canons and transcriptions. Listeners looking for the most complete Brahms available need look no further. Listeners who do look no further, however, will have to settle for good but by no means great performances. Jones has a big tone coupled to an impressive technique and many of his performances are quite fine. But too often here he seems to be merely going through the motions, turning in accomplished but unexciting sometimes even dutiful performances. When extroverted virtuosity is called for in the Paganini Variations, Jones is almost but not altogether on top of the notes.
The music of Brahms held an important place in Sir John Barbirolli's repertoire and these recordings of the symphonies, made with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1966 and 1967, stand as one of the peaks of his discography. Barbirolli's relationship with this music is rooted in his time as an orchestral cellist, and these performances are notable for their rich, ripe sonorities and expansive warmth. This Japanese SACD reissue features the 2011's EMI Remaster.