WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4; Tragic Overture; Academic Festival Overture; Variations on the St Anthony Chorale; Schicksalslied
PERFORMER: Westminster Symphonic Choir, New York Philharmonic/Kurt Masur
CATALOGUE NO: 0630-13565-2
With the symphonies of Brahms showing few signs of becoming an endangered species in record company catalogues, newcomers to the field usually search for that something special which will mark them out from the crowd. More reactionary than revisionist, Masur outflanks many of his rivals with quietly self-confident readings which draw unashamedly on performing traditions that have been handed down over the decades.
Gentle lyricism combines with leisurely tempi, which fluctuate to a far greater degree than has been common in recent years. The First Symphony’s opening seems to chug along at a notch too slow for my liking, but momentum and tension are never lacking. The natural ebb and flow is bound together with an innate sense for the formal whole of each work. Which, paradoxically, leads to my principal criticism of this set. For reasons which I am at a loss to explain in a conductor whose grasp of form is a major strength, Masur omits the first movement repeats.
This set can nevertheless be recommended to anyone who would like a modern recording without quirks or frills. The New York Philharmonic sounds magnificent whilst the live recordings, in front of an apparently bound and gagged audience, are excellent. Christopher Dingle