Brahms: Symphonies

COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: DG
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms
WORKS: Symphonies
PERFORMER: Vienna PO/Leonard Bernstein
CATALOGUE NO: 073 4331
In his filmed introductions to the symphonies, Bernstein speaks eloquently of Brahms’s essential duality, of Romantic passion contained and controlled by Classical forms, and of warmth tempered by strength. This certainly describes the sound of the Vienna Philharmonic as captured by Unitel’s engineers. Bernstein’s interpretations, however, clearly verge towards the Romantic side of the coin. The final passacaglia of the Fourth is not so much homage to Bach but rather a Mahlerian dirge lamenting the passing of 200 years of music history. It has nothing to do with Brahms’s allegro energico, but I still found it immensely moving.

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Mahlerian as well is the wealth of textural detail revealed by Bernstein’s unusually expansive tempos for the Third, which also allow the middle movements to emerge as essential destinations on the road to the finale rather than mere interludes. I am less convinced by Symphonies Nos 1 and 2, where the outer movements are utterly passionate and mostly coherent (the introduction to the finale of No. 1 is probably the slowest on record) but the middle movements tend to collapse under the weight

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of lethargic tempos and their constant modification.