Christoph von Dohnányi / Philharmonia Orchestra

Brahms: The Four Symphonies

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Recorded in 2007 and 2009, these live recordings of the four symphonies of Johannes Brahms are serious attempts to present the music from an unsentimental viewpoint. Christoph von Dohnányi is a skilled and careful craftsman who knows the symphonic repertoire thoroughly, and his straightforward approach to interpreting 19th century symphonies gives him a certain flexibility with competing ideas. There is a range of performance styles that conductors can adopt in playing Brahms, anywhere from the scholarly practices of John Eliot Gardiner or Roger Norrington, to the full-blown post-Romantic expressions of many mid-20th century conductors, and Dohnányi is squarely in the middle between these camps. There are no period trappings here, nor are there excesses of rubato or eccentricities of interpretation. But aside from skipping first movement repeats (which was standard practice for most modern performances until the 1980s), Dohnányi and the Philharmonia Orchestra stick to the score with consistency and play with accuracy, all the better to let the music speak for itself. While this is certainly conservative and uncontroversial from anyone's position, listeners may find Dohnányi's Brahms a bit dry, and perhaps it is best appreciated for its clarity of form and lucid counterpoint, rather than for any emotional power or insights into historical practices. Because of the no-nonsense delivery, this set is quite good for study purposes and for newcomers delving into Brahms' symphonies.

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