April 2005

Brahms - Symphony No. 1, Tragic Overture, Academic Festival Overture
London Philharmonic Orchestra; Marin Alsop, conductor
Naxos 6.110077
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD
Released: 2005

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Brahms - Symphony No. 1, Variations on a Theme by Haydn
Utah Symphony Orchestra; Maurice Abravanel, conductor
Silverline Classics 284208-2
Format: DualDisc CD/DVD Audio 5.1
Originally released: 1976
Reissue released: 2005

Musical Performance ***
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ***

by Bill Brooks

As is common with lesser-known conductors, Marin Alsop is mostly known for her interpretations of more modern fare, but her excellent readings of Brahms may be the breakout that earns her the recognition she deserves. Her interpretation of the Brahms Symphony No. 1 on Naxos is reminiscent of the Mackerras performance released on Telarc about eight years ago. Finesse is everything when conducting the masters, and Alsop has it. The tempos have a clean, natural flow that allow the drama of the piece to have real impact without caramelizing it. The orchestra plays skillfully, and there are some brilliant solos, including a gorgeous flute passage shortly into the fourth movement.

The concurrent Silverline Classics release of Maurice Abravanel’s reading of the Symphony with the Utah Symphony Orchestra reads as quite a different story. Throughout most of the performance, the tempos move along with such consistent momentum that some of the drama is lost. It is almost as if Abravanel was so concerned about not being Karajan that he missed some of the majesty of the piece. Yet his performance has its great moments. He does manage to expand a little in the third movement, and the woodwind playing against the strings here is quite special.

Both recordings show the potential of multichannel when done correctly. The orchestra remains spread out it front with the added channels providing the ambience of the hall. No extra attention is drawn to the center channel. The Naxos disc sounds more full and transparent. It was easy to sense the size and space of the hall without sacrificing the detail of orchestra. The Silverline disc shows the limitations of the 1976 original recording. It does provide some interesting bonus features, including a tribute video and some interesting behind-the-scenes footage. The Alsop recording is also available in DVD-Audio format, but without any video extras.