Brahms: Symphony No. 1 in C minor; Nänie

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Symphony No. 1 in C minor; Nänie
PERFORMER: Tanglewood Festival Chorus, Boston SO/Bernard Haitink
CATALOGUE NO: 442 799-2
This closing instalment of Haitink’s Boston Brahms cycle (Symphony Hall, April 1994) is an uneven remake of the C minor, comparing unfavourably with his highly competitive 1972 analogue mid-price Concertgebouw version. While the measured first movement may well survive intact, with a high-tension development and appropriately bass-conscious coda (no exposition repeat, though – old habits die hard), the finale, lacking scale and direction, most evidently doesn’t – fevered by misplaced urgency, perplexing swings of tempo and forward, coarse-grained tutti balances (apparent also from Nänie: an unloving reading) that dangerously obscure the pathos and broader canvas of the music.

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Orchestrally, the Bostonians play uniformly, yet without much spontaneity or character (even from the concert master). The string pizzicati in particular (that resonance Brahms so perennially loved) sound weakeningly thin and faceless. With its rhythmic élan, and greater presence and warmth, the earlier, quicker Amsterdam performance has to be the finer, more considered achievement. Alternatively (for the same price as this Boston release) consider Eschenbach’s repackaged Houston set of all four symphonies (Virgin), which offers a First that scans the riches and depths of Brahms’s world with a devotion and intensity of feeling redolent of Furtwängler [but for a contrasting view, see Reissues – Reviews Ed]. Ates Orga