Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68; Tragic Overture, Op. 81
Gewandhausorchester Leipzig/Herbert Blomstedt
Pentatone PTC 5186 850 62:32 mins
Herbert Blomstedt, now well into his 90s, contributes a heartfelt preface to the CD booklet, in which he declares that in a time when the world is at risk of losing its soul we stand more in need than ever of the ray of light that music can provide. The Tragic Overture and the First Symphony actually represent Brahms at his darkest and most intense, but Blomstedt and the fine Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra show us that the music can nevertheless glow with warmth throughout. Blomstedt’s attention to detail is admirable, and his performances are wonderfully controlled. Perhaps the Symphony’s slow movement lingers a little more than necessary, but the orchestral playing is so incandescent that it’s hard to complain.
Both outer movements have a slow and solemn introduction whose ideas return in an accelerated form in the following Allegro. In the case of the finale, those ideas include a brief and mysterious brass chorale which comes back in a full-blooded scoring in the movement’s quick coda. Blomstedt makes its return into a grandiose moment with a sudden and huge reduction in tempo; but, again, it’s hard to take him to task, because virtually any conductor you can think of follows the same unauthorised tradition. It would be good, though, to hear the coda for once dispatched in a single sweep of energy, as Klemperer used to do. But don’t let this put you off: this is a splendid and inspiring disc, and it can’t be recommended too strongly.