Recorded competition is, of course, very stiff in this repertoire and this perfectly serviceable and sometimes individual account doesnt alter the pecking-order of recommendations, or add to our understanding of the music; but, in fairness to Alsop, she doesnt attempt novelty for its own sake. The very opening, imposing and striding, promises more than is ultimately delivered, and Alsop sometimes intrudes the musics flow for no good reason; conversely she is excellent in following through Brahmss rhythmic designs. The repeat of the first movements exposition isnt justified, though it sounds here more like a delaying tactic before the real business of the development and the broadening of pace for the mottos return in the finales coda also invokes the wrong sort of tradition staying in tempo is always more convincing (and Brahms is silent on the matter as far as the printed score is concerned).
This Brahms 1, then, is likeable but not distinctive enough to challenge, say, Boult and Klemperer (both EMI), Wands Chicago account (RCA, but which is now sabotaged by an awful transfer on Artistes et Répertoires) or Harnoncourt (Teldec) and Berglund (Ondine) who both offer revelatory reappraisals. But Alsop is considered and appreciative, and although she makes the finales big tune a little syrupy, she is clearly in love with this music and has taken much trouble over the score and secured a sonorous bass foundation. An edit at 1323 in the finale (to a lighter-sounding take) might have been better disguised, though, and there is too long a gap between the intermezzo-like third movement and the finale; tension dissipates.
Nobody, though, should feel short-changed by this recording, and newcomers to the music will be well served, just as Brahms is in general terms. But theres often a catch here it is a magnificent Tragic Overture, paced ideally broad but purposeful and delivered with clarity and heartfelt expressiveness; and the overtures Academic companion (one laughs, the other cries, said Brahms, or something like it) receives a relaxed, good-natured reading that concludes the CD in jubilant fashion.
- CD-only version available on 8.557428