Valery Gergiev / London Symphony Orchestra

Brahms: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 2; Tragic Overture; Variations on a Theme of Haydn

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Ostensibly the first volume of a projected set of Johannes Brahms' symphonies and orchestral works, this LSO Live SACD twofer presents Valery Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra in live recordings of the Symphonies No. 1 and No. 2, the Tragic Overture, and the Variations on a Theme by Haydn. Gergiev's Brahms is energetic, bigger-than-life, and spontaneous, traits that are frequently associated with the conductor but that apply equally to these performances. The First is urgent and intense, with rhythmic suppleness and expressive volatility, making the music surge forward and retreat with Romantic impulsiveness; in other words, this isn't cerebral Brahms, but highly emotional Brahms. Neither is the Second particularly intellectualized, because it practically bubbles with youthful ardor and bonhomie, and floats along with a lightheartedness that is sometimes missing in performances of this work. The Tragic Overture is understated and surprisingly resigned in feeling, and it may be too subdued for any who expect something more powerful. The Variations (actually not on a theme by Haydn, but on the anonymous Chorale St. Antoni, a pilgrims' hymn), reveal a stately interpretation, and the music's symmetrical phrasing and form seem to have inspired this graceful approach. While Gergiev is generally too free with tempos and pacing to be considered a traditionalist, his readings are ear-opening and fascinating, so listeners who like things shaken up a little may appreciate his impassioned style.

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