Karl Böhm / Wiener Philharmoniker

Brahms: Symphony No. 1

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Karl Böhm: does anybody miss him? Not his players: to German and Austrian musicians of the middle years of the twentieth century, when it came to personality, Böhm was a little to the right of Fritz Reiner and a bit to the left of Adolph Hitler. Not his record company: at the start of his career, Böhm was outshone by Furtwängler and Karajan and at the end of his career, he was outshone by Abbado and Bernstein. Only his listeners miss Böhm, but, boy, do they miss him. When it came to lucidity and dedication, to integrity and purpose, there was no conductor like Böhm and in the core Austro-Germanic repertoire, there was no conductor like Böhm for insight, power, and wisdom.

In this 1944 recording of Brahms' Symphony No. 1 with the Vienna Philharmonic, Böhm is not quite at the top of his form. For that, try his 1960 First with the Berlin Philharmonic. Nor was he at his wisest. For that, try his 1976 First with the Vienna Philharmonic. No, in this 1944 First, Böhm is at his most powerful and his most driven. The determination of the outer movements from the opening tympani march through the closing brass chorale is intense and immense. While his central Andante sostenuto lacks affectionate repose and his Un poco allegretto e grazioso wants elegant congeniality, this was Vienna in 1944, after all, and conditions were appalling. Still, for the power and drive of the outer movements, the 1944 Böhm with the Vienna Philharmonic is well worth hearing for those who miss Karl Böhm. Centurion Classics' digital remastering sounds immeasurably worse than something you'd find in a cardboard box in your great Aunt Helga's basement.

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