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  Naxos -
  Brahms: Symphony No. 1, Overtures - Alsop
  Brahms: Symphony No. 1 in C minor Op. 68, Tragic Overture Op. 81, Academic Festival Overture Op. 80

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Marin Alsop (conductor)
Track listing:
  Classical - Orchestral
Recording type:
Recording info:
  Recorded at Watford Colosseum, Watford, UK on 18th and 19th January, 2004
Producer and Engineer: Tim Handley

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Reviews: 5 show all

Site review by ramesh April 21, 2005
It says something for changing tastes that after the Beethoven symphonies, the most popular symphonies released on high resolution media appear to be Mahler and Mozart, with Schubert and Brahms lagging behind. Sony released a rather creaky Walter Brahms 4 in their original tranche, cheekily without any coupling, and only recently has more appeared on SACD and DVDA. What reasons to support this issue; because she's a woman, because she can't get a good recording contract in America and has to come to the UK, because this is a studio symphonic recording which is something of a scarcity nowadays, because Naxos are getting round to recording with an illustrious orchestra, because Naxos are relaxing their unofficial policy of pairing a conductor's nationality to the source music (heck, is this a backhand sort of crypto-racism?)? People will say only the music counts, and yeah, we live in a fair world where all talent rises to the top!

I have this on SACD, not DVDA, and this Naxos 24/48 PCM recording is significantly better in sound than their other hi-res efforts, with the exception of the Elgar-Payne 3, which was recorded at 176.4 khz and bizarrely downsampled to 24/44.1 . That's Naxos. However, if I hadn't known the recording details, I would have thought it was native DSD or high sampling PCM; the sound is well rounded, full, good timbre on woodwind, perhaps a bit of steeliness to high first violins especially in the slow movement betraying PCM pedigree. Good enough a recording to say this is a good orchestra playing responsively, but not one of the major North American or European ensembles. A bit like the NZSO on its best form. The sound has much more bloom than the LSO Live Haitink Brahms 3, though the LSO appear to have a slight executive edge. Over 10 years ago I heard Tennstedt conduct Brahms 1 with this orchestra, and Sinopoli with the Philharmonia in the same hall. However, Naxos recorded this not in London's Royal Festival Hall, but at a place called the Watford Colosseum. (Sounds appropriate to incarcerate Charles and Camilla Saxe-Coburg-Gotha here.)
Alsop is more convincing than Sinopoli, less so than the ageing Tennstedt. She commences with grim urgency, almost reminiscent of Klemperer's famous Philharmonia recording, but at a quicker, nervier tempo. However, her artistic personality on the evidence of this ( I haven't heard her in anything else), is of a gentler mien, and the first movement in particular has a natural tendency to ebb into a more discursive and mellow temperature. There is a rather juddery transition from the imposing introduction into the allegro, as though this marks a seam between what she feels she ought to do ( Bernstein apparently was her mentor) and how the work can go, were her Brahms cycle securely in the can with her company. The andante sostenuto is songful, tender and lyrical with a few tightenings of the emotional screws. It sounds more sostenuto than andante. Its timing of just over nine minutes isn't particularly brisk, but the concentration of the mood makes it appear swifter than it actually is. The biggest surprise in her interpretation is in the finale, where the brakes go on for the big theme at 4:35. It is very slow, though well groomed. The score at bar 186 is marked largamente ( broadly, with fullness), though this instruction is given only over the strings; as the tune is slurred, Brahms could just as readily be referring to the bowing style, rather than to drop the tempo. He also writes poco forte, but there is no increase in dynamics as is usually the case, until the forte animato at bar 220 really bites in, because of the relative repose of what has gone before. Quite a humble way of delivering a heroic, affirmatory declaration! This seems to be the crux of her conviction; she wants to exhibit the lyrical and humane side of Brahms; not the grizzled dour bearer of high romantic drama, but the lieder and chamber composing Brahms. She is conveying not pathos through urgency, the standard mould for the standard stormy Brahms1, but pathos and yearning in these sections, outside of the ambit of high drama. I just hope people won't stereotype her as a warm, nurturing Brahmsian rather than the more politically correct Old Testament prophet, and especially that she isn't tagged as a 'feminine' conductor because this Brahms1 doesn't steam into combat all guns blazing. The Tragic overture is 'tragic' rather than 'Tragic', more a bittersweet divorce than symphonic Armageddon, the Academic Festival overture more like student high jinks than conducted with the scampy scurrilous wit others have infused it with, which any decent public figure sitting on the school board would reflexively distrust; but then, Brahms has always seemed more of the Establishment than the subtle subversive classicist he probably was. Recommendable? You bet, but not the farm.

Review by audio-grubi February 14, 2005 (10 of 23 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
What a fantastic smooth, clear, transparent sound (listen to the clarinets and flutes!) and exciting interpretation of the symphonie and the overtures! I like it much more (and listend it nearly each day since I've bought it), than the recording of the complete symphonies by Semyon Bychkov and the WDR symphonie orchestra [Avie Records, AV2051] after a direct comparison (I can switch from DVD-Audio to SACD and back by simultaneous starting of both recordings)). And in my opinion it's the DVD-Audio/SACD with the best sound which's ever made by NAXOS until now (I posses, except two, all of them and most of them as DVD-Audio, 'cause all NAXOS multichannel-recordings are PCM-recordings)

I've the DVD-Audio-version of this recording (if the original recording is in PCM, I prefer the DVD-Audio, 'cause I don't believe, that the conversion from PCM to DSD will bring an improofment in sound (X) and for using the time delay-function the DSD signal must convert into a PCM signal first by each SACD player; PCM-format of this recording: 24 bit, 48 kHz sampling frequency, 5.0 with full utilization of the center speaker!) and so I hope the SACD will sound as good as the DVD-Audio.
And I also hope that NAXOS will publish the complete cycle of the Brahms symphonies on SACD/DVD-Audio!

(X) I compared DVD-Audio discs and SACDs of the same recording (swan lake, NAXOS)

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Review by darkroommd January 21, 2008 (7 of 12 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
I have spent a month now with this music, and this CD has yet to leave my player's carousel.

Keeping in mind that the sound of Brahms S1 has been etched into my mind by recordings by Abbado/Berlin and Walter/Columbia. Alsop makes no attempt to follow in their footsteps, other than in making great music.

She opens with a charge, with the tympani leading the way. The tempo is very moderate and unhurried, but is full of intensity. This becomes her M.O. for much of the symphony: restrained/conservative pacing, instead allowing long phrasing and grand sonorities to provide the drama. Once your brain overwrites what you are used to hearing from the "standard" recordings, you will be entirely satisfied with this Brahms 1. The third movement takes on absolutely pastoral quality, which, if not riveting, is entirely pleasing. The most startling moment for most listeners will be the molto andante that Alsop adopts for THE main theme of the 4th movement. She allows it to bask in the sunlight as long as possible, heightening its inherent beauty, but later accelerates into allegro in the following developmental section. While unfamiliar to my ears, it works well.

Another comparison worth mentioning is LPO/Alsop/Naxos versus LSO/Haitink/LSO Live. I much prefer the former. It would be fascinating to hear each group in the other's recording venue. This Naxos album is a studio recording with an exceptional sound, which is lively and resonant, with warm rich harmonics, but never lacking in detail. I'm sure most will agree that the LSO in the Barbican comes off dry and analytical in a majority of their recordings. This simply does not suit Brahms' orchestration. If only Naxos would have released this entire cycle on SACD !!!!!

Despite whatever benefit the superior recording quality contributes, the fact remains that the LPO plays superbly both in tutti and in solo efforts.

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Works: 3  

Johannes Brahms - Akademische Festouvertüre (Academic Festival Overture), Op. 80
Johannes Brahms - Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68
Johannes Brahms - Tragische Ouverture (Tragic Overture), Op. 81