Album Review: Brahms: The Symphonies

Brahms:  The Sympohonies, by the Gewandhausorchester directed by Riccardo Chailly

Released by Decca Classics, this three-cd collection of some of the most notable parts of the Brahms repertoire in addition to his four symphonies is a worthwhile and wonderful example of classical music recording done right.  Everything about this collection demands to be taken seriously.  Not only does the cd contain three and a half hours, roughly, of some fantastic music, most of it an essential part of the Brahms repertoire, but it also includes some extremely detailed liner notes that demonstrate the way that Brahms has often served as a point of controversy concerning traditionalists and modernists in his own day, as well as a reminder of how work can serve to inspire approval and appropriation by entirely contradictory movements, none of whom appear to have understood the achievement and creativity but also the discipline of a complicated and enigmatic man, which Brahms certainly ways.  Whether or not one thinks that Riccardo Chailly has made all the right choices concerning matters of tempo, he deserves a great deal of attention to taking the directions of the composer seriously and showing a somewhat obsessive interest in uncovering original manuscripts and showing at least a little bit of the variation within Brahms’ work as well as the difference between original and final versions.

Most of the contents of these three discs is essential listening for a fan of Brahms [1] and someone who is fond, in general, of good orchestral music [2].  The first disc consists of the four movements of Brahms’ first symphony (often labeled as Beethoven’s 10th by the composer’s contemporary critics), and the four movements of the third symphony, the Eroica, whose third movement served as an unacknowledged source for the Santana and Dave Matthews collaboration “Love Of My Love” [3], among other songs.  The second disc consists of the four movements of the second, pastoral, symphony of Brahms as well as the four movements of Brahms’ fourth symphony, closing with a short clip of the revised and longer opening to the first movement of the fourth symphony.  The third disc consists of non-symphony works that are nonetheless of some importance, and a bit of padding in the original performance version of the andante from Brahms’ first symphony in a slightly different form than that in the first disc.  The remainder of the third disc’s contents, though, including the tragic overture, two world premiere recordings of Intermezzo, op. 116 no. 4 and op. 117 no.1 arranged by Klegel, ten Haydn variations, 9 liebeslieder waltzer pieces arranged by Brahms, the festival overture, and three lovely Hungarian dances orchestrated by Brahms without an opus number.  The music is so superb and lovely that few listeners will complain that the third disc does not have much in the way of Brahms’ symphonies aside from the reprise from the first symphony.

In evaluating this material, one has to look at the expectations one has.  No matter how high one’s expectations concerning classical music, it is difficult to see any grounds by which this disc would fall short.  The sound engineering and quality of playing is stellar, the pieces chosen are of undeniable significance and are treated with respect and even a fair degree of reverence by the orchestra and its famous director.  The liner notes show a great attention to music criticism and history and the context of Brahms’ life and era and are given in four languages:  English, French, German, and Italian, for the upscale and cultured intended audience of the project.  The symphonies themselves are beautiful and this is the sort of work that one can easily imagine winning awards besides sounding wonderful on public radio as well as in live performances.  Given all of this, it is hard to know what more one could possibly expect out of such a collection which, like the others of its series, is creditworthy for anyone involved in it, including those fortunate enough to listen to it.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:


About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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