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Brahms - Symphonies 1 & 2

Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73
Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80
Variations on a theme by Haydn for orchestra, Op. 56a 'St Anthony Variations'

Houston Symphony, Christopher Eschenbach

Eschenbach's Brahms is big, romantic, plush, sweeping. Very upholstered with generally slower tempi, with an emphasis on beauty. Eschenbach is in no hurry, so you must be be patient to enjoy takes that are relaxed (that critics say are too much so). It can be described as closer to old school along the lines of Sanderling or Giulini, minus the more challenging insights, with lyricism valued far over chiseling, muscle, and dynamic contrasts

Eschenbach at times takes great liberties with phrasing and tempi. It is an approach that has its spectacular moments (the First), and just as many moments of odd maundering. Overall, his interpretations remain within a certain expressive range, with contrasts tempered. Wonderful playing by the Houston symphony, which approached top tier status under Eschenbach, if you accept the interpretations.

The highlight, the First, is huge and monumental, and surprisingly one of the better versions of the digital era. It is one of the few newer (I consider post-1970s newer) offerings that approach the likes of Klemperer, Horenstein etc. for weight and sweep, if lacking some of the muscle and edges of many. The score of the First happens to work better with Eschenbach's idiosyncracies than the other symphonies in the cycle. The Second, a less successful interpretation, is soft edged and lyrical, but short on insights.

It is a pity that in the ensuing years, Eschenbach became a more conventional and "correct" interpreter. This captures him taking more chances. It is an interesting ride.

Brand New/sealed 2CD
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