Brahms: Symphony No. 1

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COMPOSERS: Johannes Brahms
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms: Symphony No. 1
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Liebeslieder Waltzes from Op. 52 & Op. 65; Hungarian Dances Nos 1, 3 & 10
PERFORMER: Swedish CO/Thomas Dausgaard


Since Brahms was known to have regarded the modestly sized Meiningen Court Orchestra as the ideal ensemble for performing his Symphonies, there’s a good deal of historical justification for hearing smaller orchestral forces in this repertoire. A reduction in the number of strings enables the woodwind and brass to assume a more dominant role in the musical argument, and also gives Brahms’s textures much greater linearity and rhythmic tension.

These qualities are evident in this stunningly recorded performance of the First Symphony in which Thomas Dausgaard secures superbly incisive playing from the Swedish Chamber Orchestra. Dausgaard favours swift tempos, especially in the outer movements. Indeed, the highly charged pace with which he drives the un poco sostenuto introduction might come as something of a shock to those used to a more monumental approach, while the reluctance to linger unduly over lyrical passages in the slow movement perhaps drains some of the music of its customary warmth. On the plus side, Dausgaard’s penchant for disjunctive phrasing, and his keen attention to inner detail, undoubtedly makes this performance a very stimulating experience.

It’s quite surprising to discover that the selection of Liebeslieder Waltzes which Brahms orchestrated in 1869 is such a comparative rarity on disc. Here, however, Dausgaard and his outstanding orchestra are in their element, delivering these enchanting miniatures with wonderful fluidity of tempo, humour and affection, qualities also very much to the fore in the three Hungarian Dances.


Erik Levi