|Review by Scott March 14, 2007 (10 of 11 found this review helpful)
|Recording: Eurogress, Aachen. Dec 2006.
This disc features the 1st and 4th Symphonies of Brahms. I've probably listened to 40-50 performances of these works and own many copies on disc, but I haven't heard anything lately that sounds like these recordings. A general description might be that these performances sound like a cross between Charles Mackerras' and Nikolaus Harnoncourt's approach to the Brahms symphonies in their respective recordings with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic. I'm sure that not everyone will enjoy them; Bosch and the Aachen Sinfonie don't sound like Karajan or Bohm. Taken on their own, there are some things to recommend them.
Symphony 1: begins with a moderately quick opening, not quite the speed of Gunter Wand's Chicago recording, but almost. The tympani strokes are different from almost anything else I've heard. Higher-pitched seemingly (skins sound almost too tightly stretched) and using wooden mallets, they don't serve to provide a basso foundation, but rather an unusual, pounding "thwack" that I initially found a little annoying. The tympani also sound spot-lit, which perhaps contributes to their unusual presence. The bass line is mezzo-piano throughout, occasionally inaudible, and the orchestra sounds small, slightly larger than chamber-sized. The orchestral playing is very good, however, and the violins are smooth with no shrillness or harshness, and the diminished forces bring incredible clarity to some of Brahms' string writing - the last movement contains several superb examples. The two middle movements come off very good under this approach, but the beginning and ending were underwhelming at times - my perception was and is that the orchestral foundation is underweight, particularly in the bass line.
Symphony 4: the first movement can only be described in one way: fast. Clocking in at 11 minutes and change, it's played almost without any pause. It's almost a full two minutes faster than Karajan's last recording of this work. It's breathless and interesting, but misses much of the poignancy and "frei aber einsam" melancholy that can be drawn from this, the greatest of the Brahms symphonies. Not that the playing suffers - it's still very good, though there is again a much-diminished bass line, so critical to what I would consider "good" Brahms. The remainder of the symphony can be described similarly, with the two middle movements benefitting from the extraordinary clarity this approach brings, but sounding tonally anemic in spots.
I listened in stereo and MC, but found the stereo layer to have a better bass presence. Though the smaller forces and faster tempi may have been a deliberate approach on the part of the conductor, I'm not sure how "Brahmsian" many people will find this disc. The recording is extremely clear and present, but after Coviello's Bruckner recordings with these same forces, I was expecting more "air" around the sound. Given the interpretive approach, a wider and more resonant soundstage would have improved this recording, in my opinion.
Overall, an interesting effort, definitely off the "beaten path" in Brahms. It's not terrible and is certainly a legitimate interpretation in its own right, but it does take some getting used to. This approach might make more sense, at least to me, in the two Brahms symphonies not recorded here. Mackerras' 2nd, for example, is very good reading in which thick orchestral textures come out much more clearly with the chamber orchestral and the lack of tonal weight isn't as critical. While this recording is certainly worth hearing and will appeal to some, I don't think it replaces Karajan, Klemperer, Bohm, or Abbado as reference recordings for the Brahms symphonies.
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