Brahms' First Symphony took more than a decade of revision, self-doubt, and uncertainty to finally reach a finished product in 1876. Brahms was 43 years old and already a successful, established composer at the time, and the first symphony already represents a seasoned, mature, and artful product, one that is as highly acclaimed now as it was at its premiere. After overcoming the hurdle of writing the first symphony in the wake of Beethoven's contributions, Brahms' later symphonies came much more easily, but still resulted in stunning masterpieces of the literature. The Third Symphony, unusual at the time for the slow, quiet, serene ending of the fourth movement, took the veteran composer only a single summer to complete.
This Helicon Classics album features the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under Zubin Mehta, an orchestra with which he has had an exceptionally long tenure producing exceptional results. Recorded live in 2009, this performance of the First and Third symphonies possesses much of the richness of tone and depth of musical understanding that listeners have come to expect from Mehta and the IPO. Tempos, particularly in the First Symphony, are restrained but not stodgy, emphasizing Brahms' singular harmonic vision. Balance is generally good throughout, though the clarity of the upper and middle strings is sometimes compromised as the intensity of the music builds. While Mehta may not have anything new or revolutionary to say in these performances, they are still solid, reliable choices.