Brahms: Symphonies No.1 and No.3


This new disc from the Philharmonia completes the collection of Brahms symphonies conducted by Christoph Von Dohnányi.

Symphony No. 1: Or ‘Beethoven’s 10th’ as conductor Hans von Bülow refered to it for it’s Beethovian like themes. It took Brahms at least 14 years to finish the symphony, however it was premiered in 1876 to great acclaim.
Symphony No. 3: Written in 1883 this is perhaps the composer’s most elusive symphony. It is certainly his most adventurous, featuring daring modulations and a Schumann-esque scheme of thematic inter-relationships.
The Philharmonia Orchestra is widely recognised as the UK?s finest orchestra with an impressive recording legacy. Christoph von Dohnányi has been affiliated with the Philharmonia since 1994. He was made Honorary Conductor for life in 2008 after 11 years as principle conductor.

What people are saying

 "… these live performances are about subtle shading and unexaggerated, probing thoughtfulness, bringing out the Classical rather than the Romantic side of Brahms." Classic FM Magazine

"… a very sensitive interpreter … the slow movement [of the First Symphony] is very lyrical with some effective instrumental dovetailing and plenty of light and shade, and the finale generates an impressive sense of joyous release." Gramophone
"Both performances are well played by the Philharmonia from whom the conductor obtains a sound that is lean and muscular." Musicweb International

Philharmonia Orchestra

Christoph von Dohnányi conductor

Release date:28th Mar 2011
Order code:SIGCD250
Barcode: 635212025024

 Musicweb International

This set completes the Philharmonia’s Brahms symphony cycle with Christoph von Dohnányi. Symphonies 2 and 4 were issued a little while ago.
I think I’d describe Dohnányi’s interpretations as “central” – and I don’t mean that disparagingly. This is a traditional, reliable view of Brahms. Both performances are well played by the Philharmonia from whom the conductor obtains a sound that is lean and muscular.
The First Symphony begins with a good, broad account of the introduction but one in which the conductor maintains good momentum and tension. The main allegro is purposeful and there’s welcome energy. One feature is that the horn parts are quite prominent – though not distractingly so. I don’t know whether this is intentional on Dohnányi’s part or whether it’s to do with microphone placement but it’s interesting to hear how important these parts are at times within the texture. Throughout the movement one has a sense of direction and firm control.
The Andante sostenuto is well done and I admired the solo contributions from the leader and from the principal horn and oboe players. The long introduction to the finale is spacious in Dohnányi’s hands and I feel he generates a good atmosphere. The Big Tune unfolds smoothly (from 4:34) and in the main allegro there’s a satisfying degree of impetus and drive. Towards the end of the movement Dohnányi slows a bit more rhetorically for the chorale than I would have expected in what is overall a direct interpretation of the music but he doesn’t apply the brakes anything like as excessively as I’ve heard many a conductor do over the years. The performance elicits vociferous applause from the audience. Readers may be interested to note that this concert was reviewed for MusicWeb International Seen and Heard by Gavin Dixon.
In the Third Symphony Dohnányi once again obtains spirited and muscular- sounding playing from the Philharmonia. His reading of the first movement is dynamic in nature though he is willing to relax for the more lyrical passages. Several times I admired the corporate delicacy of the orchestra – for example between 1:25 and 2:04 – and I also appreciated the way in which Dohnányi gives full value to the spacious passage between 7:00 and 8:12 without sacrificing momentum.
The inner movements are both well done – the Andante is persuasively shaped.
The opening of the finale has the right degree of vigour – as is frequently the case in both performances, Dohnányi ensures that the performance has backbone. Later, from about 6:40, the extended coda is nicely shaped. As the end of the symphony approaches Brahms’s valedictory harmonic progressions register well yet there is no sentimental autumnal dawdling. The applause at the end is warmly respectful; there’s not the vociferous appreciation that was accorded the First Symphony but I think this simply reflects the more tranquil ending of the Third.
Collectors have a multitude of recordings of both symphonies from which to choose and one might wonder how much we really need yet more Brahms symphony performances. However, this pair of carefully considered and well played performances, captured in good sound, is competitive in a crowded field.

John Quinn

 Classic FM Magazine

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 Dohnanyi 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 Dohnanyi’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.

Malcolm Hayes


(from a comparative review):
… Dóhnanyi is the straighter player, a classicist who appreciates Brahms’s romantic soul, hence the rapt effect at the quiet centre of the third movement, though the way woodwinds answer each other at around 5′ 15" attests to an appreciation of the score’s internal dialoguing, an important virtue with this master of chamber music.
Both conductors take a broad, luxuriant view of the first movement (and both play the first-movement exposition repeat) but where Davis occasionally bends the line for rhetorical effect, Dóhnanyi is happy to keep the tempo relatively steady. Perhaps the biggest difference occurs towards the close of the second movement where Davis (at 7′ 13 ") basks in the music’s radiance, widening the expressive arch to do so, whereas Dóhnanyi (at 6’25 " – the timings are telling in themselves), also a very sensitive interpreter, prefers to keep moving and concentrate instead on accompanying string figurations. Both performances are memorable but, while Davis seems more demonstrably smitten by the sheer lustre of Brahms’s writing, Dóhnanyi marks the stronger contrasts between the middle movements.
Dóhnanyi’s account of the First Symphony again opens weightily, the bass pedal a real joist-shaker. The first movement (with no repeat this time) is a dark, heavy-booted affair, sometimes a little dry, though the transition back to the recapitulation truly growls at you. But that’s far from the whole story: the slow movement is very lyrical with some effective instrumental dovetailing and plenty of light and shade, and the finale generates an impressive sense of joyous release.

Rob Cowan

  1. Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68: i. Un poco sostenuto – Allegro – Johannes Brahms – 14.27
  2. Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68: ii. Andante Sostenuto – Johannes Brahms – 8.32
  3. Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68: iii. Un poco allegretto e grazioso – Johannes Brahms – 4.35
  4. Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68: iv. adagio – piu andante – allegro non troppo ma con brio – Johannes Brahms – 17.24
  5. Symphony No.3 in F major, Op.90: i. Allegro con brio – Johannes Brahms – 12.51
  6. Symphony No.3 in F major, Op.90: ii. Andante – Johannes Brahms – 8.36
  7. Symphony No.3 in F major, Op.90. iii. Poco allegretto – Johannes Brahms – 6.25
  8. Symphony No.3 in F major, Op.90: iv. Allegro – Johannes Brahms – 9.23
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