Don’t get me wrong, I think the guy’s music is great, and this recording is only cementing that. But it’s his structure I have trouble with. Everything sounds as if it’s carefully planned and that things are subtly morphing into other things, but I have trouble hearing it all.
However, it’s that feeling that there is a bigger picture to it all that keeps me listening to this CD, and that’s probably a good thing. If, at some stage, I’m able to find a good book that goes into detail about Brahms symphonies (something I haven’t yet found), then I’m sure I’ll be able to offer a lot more detail.
In the meantime, however, if you want really great orchestral music, this is a great CD to start with, and being a Naxos CD, it won’t cost you very much at all. Also, another thing that I thought would be interesting about this piece is that it is conducted by a woman, and female conductors are rare as hen’s teeth (I’m not sure why – but they are). Oddly enough, that seemed to make little difference, and if anything the piece sounded as if it was being conducted by Brahms himself, so maybe that’s a sign of Marin’s genius.
Either way, this music is very different from the high-energy symphonies of Beethoven, and the emotional highs and lows of Mahler. Instead, the music feels very stately and dignified (almost as if we are listening to an older man think about life). However, that’s not to say that this music is boring – it’s certainly not. It has drama, fire and passion, but it all seems to be within well thought-out boundaries.
So unlike, say, Mahler, where he often tries to create the impression that the music has a life of its own, sometimes even wailing and collapsing in on itself, in Brahms’ hand, we feel that the music is guided strongly.
Anyway, words really don’t describe this symphony. Have a listen for yourself, especially at the low price. Included on the CD (to make sure you get your money’s worth) are two of Brahms’ overtures, the Tragic Overture and the Academic Festival Overture, both of which he wrote at the same time. The Academic Festival Overture has become quite popular, as Brahms runs through a series of popular student songs, turning them into orchestral melodies with both a sense of fun, and a sense of power.
Did I mention the sound was really good on this CD as well? (If I had a more hi-tech sound system, I’d love to try the SACD or DVD-Audio of this recording.)
5 out of 5 (at least until I hear some more Brahms recordings)