John Eliot Gardiner

Brahms: Symphony No. 1

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Brahms: Symphony No. 1 Review

by James Leonard

Many if not most listeners would say that period instruments and historically informed performance practice are fine in their place, but many if not most listeners would also say their place does not include repertoire from the latter years of the nineteenth century. For those listeners, this disc of John Eliot Gardiner leading the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique and the Monteverdi Choir in three works of Brahms -- the Begräbnisgesang, Schicksalslied, and C minor Symphony -- and one of Mendelssohn -- the Mitten wir im Leben sind -- will be totally unacceptable. For them, its odd colors, unusual balances, and quirky articulation will seem so utterly unlike the Brahms they know they will categorically reject these performances.

That's their choice and their loss. For one thing, no one could doubt that Gardiner's musicians are wholly adept at their tasks. There's not a note wrong or a rhythm misplaced anywhere in these performances. For another, no one would argue that Gardiner and his musicians are not entirely dedicated to the music and to giving it the most powerful reading they can. The choral Begräbnisgesang, Schicksalslied, and Mitten wir im Leben sind are deeply moving and the C minor Symphony is profoundly affecting, especially in its heroic finale. True, the colors, articulation, and balances are strikingly different, with the colors more piquant, the articulation more detached, and the balances more diverse. But since most of these works and in particular the symphony are exceedingly well known and most of these changes are supported by scholarship and musicianship, it seems churlish to protest. Captured in rich, clean but atmospheric digital sound in live performances, this disc may be anathema to some, but it will be ambrosia to others.

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