Christoph von Dohnányi conducts Brahms’s Symphonies 1 & 3 [Philharmonia Orchestra on Signum Classics]

0 of 5 stars

Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.68
Symphony No.3 in F, Op.90

Philharmonia Orchestra
Christoph von Dohnányi

Recorded in Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London during 2009 – on 14 May (Symphony 1) & 22 October

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: March 2011
SIGCD250 (2 CDs)
Duration: 82 minutes



Christoph von Dohnányi leads powerful and sensitive accounts of these symphonies by Brahms, the Philharmonia Orchestra responding with a range of moods and inputs that befits the music. Woodwind contributions are particularly distinguished, most notably in the Third Symphony, which enjoys an agreeable ebb and flow without losing direction. After a gripping account of the first movement (exposition repeat observed), the song-like second movement is gently essayed, the ensuing third being wistful and with affecting half-light dynamics, and the finale is fiery and incisive, winding down to a hard-won if autumnal victory. A performance of this rather elusive work that can hold its head high in the catalogue.

The First Symphony is not quite so successful overall, the introduction not explicitly tragic enough, the first-movement allegro just a little under-tempo and rather too consciously moulded and sometimes further held back. Yet there’s a fine and weighty blaze of sound, although horns can be too prominent, and the slow movement is expressively turned, with lovely solos from oboe and violin. The intermezzo-like third movement is frisky and volatile, and the finale uncovers some of the tension absent from the first movement, a suspenseful account, with an exciting stringendo for the pizzicatos, a thunderous welcome for horns and flute to suggest daybreak, and the trombone choir intoning something sacred. From there the music is bountifully articulated and sprints incisively and eagerly to a grand peroration.

With a lucid and tangible recording that gives a very fair idea of what music sounds like in the Royal Festival Hall, this is a recommendable release of ‘traditional’ Brahms performances, the Third outstanding and the First often exciting. Had applause been jettisoned (especially after the quiet-ending Third), then this might be a single-CD issue, but no doubt it is a 2-for-1 package. Brahms’s Second (particularly excellent) and Fourth symphonies are coupled on a previous Signum release.

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