For this 2015 Rondeau Productions CD, Howard Griffiths and the Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester Frankfurt present the original versions of Brahms' first two symphonies, in warmly felt performances that follow period practices and the historical annotations of 19th century conductor and Brahms authority, Fritz Steinbach. This recording is not especially revolutionary in sound or style, though, because Griffiths emphasizes expression over theory and historicity, and adjusts the orchestra's sonorities and textures according to the music's needs. Overall, the symphonies are fully recognizable, though there are a few passages that will surprise, revealing unfamiliar orchestration and small differences in the inner voices and other minor details. Griffiths has seated the orchestra in the late Romantic style, with first and second violins facing each other, and the balance of sections is adjusted to produce subtle variations in tone, not least in the spare use of vibrato. Thankfully, these performances lack the sterile glossiness and clinical detachment of some historically informed renditions, and the orchestra offers the tonal richness and expressive depth that one finds in more traditional readings of Brahms. This recording is recommended for all Brahmsians, both for the sensitivity of the interpretations and the chance to hear these pieces in their first state of composition.
Brahms: Symphonies 1 & 2 Review
by Blair Sanderson