Dohnányi handles Brahms gently

The Dohnányi-lead Philharmonia could pick up the pace but they bring grace and poise to two of Brahms pieces

Composer: Brahms
Repertoire:  Symphonies Nos 1 and 3
Artists: Philharmonia Orchestra/ Christoph von Dohnányi
Rating:  3/5
Genre: Orchestral
Label: Signum Classics SIG CD250  

The Music: Intimidated by Beethoven’s example, Brahms waited until the age of 43 before completing his epic First Symphony, declared at the time to be ‘Beethoven’s Tenth’. His shorter and mellower Third Symphony followed a few years later.

The Performance: Christoph von Dohnányi is a conductor who seems to work in black and white rather than in colour. True to form, these live performances are about subtle shading and unexaggerated, probing thoughtfulness, bringing out the Classical rather than the Romantic side of Brahms. The risk is a lack of drama: the First Symphony’s turbulent opening movement surely needs stronger momentum than this, plus a notch of extra pace. But from then the excitement builds steadily, with impressive horn-playing to herald the finale’s ‘big tune’. The Third Symphony’s gentler climate suits Dohnányi’s approach, and is graced with Philharmonia playing of much grace and poise.

The Verdict: The recorded competition is fearsome, particularly from greats like Karajan and giulini. But if you like your Brahms done in no-frills style, these performances will appeal strongly.

Want More? Dohnányi conducts the Philharmonia in the Second and Fourth Symphonies, also on Signum (SigCD132).