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  PentaTone Classics -
  PTC 5186 307
  Brahms: Symphony No. 1, Haydn Variations - Janowski
  Brahms: Symphony No. 1 in C minor Op. 68, Variations on a Theme of Haydn Op. 56

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Marek Janowski (conductor)
Track listing:
  Classical - Orchestral
Recording type:
Recording info:

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Related titles: 3

Reviews: 5 show all

Site review by Polly Nomial October 3, 2007
Performance:   Sonics:  
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Review by Edvin August 21, 2007 (16 of 17 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Symphony no 1 timings: Janowski, 15.13, 8.31, 4.30, 16.13. Bychkov, 17.19, 8.46, 5.45, 18.21 (repeats are the same)

As you can see fom the above this is a swift performance and right from the outset there is a sense of haste. The orchestral sound is great, big and beefy with very deep and forward bass. Perhaps the timps could have been clearer, but that may be a result of the hall, I don´t know. In my opinion the opening lacks grandeur because of the fast tempo and the Allegro follows in the same style. Some impressive playing and the end of the movement is wonderfully shaped with a very nice blend of sounds. But it is too fast for comfort as it robs Brahms of some of his majesty and breadth, as well as pure drama. The intensity in Brahms is not heightened by a faster tempo, rather the contrary.

The Andante is lovely with some very fine playing from the solo violine. The third movement is again very swift and the more rustic side is therefore only hinted at. The finale opens in an imposing manner with a sense of expectancy. Not the greatest horn playing I have heard but good anyway. The main tune is gloriously played but I have great difficulty in coming to terms with Janowski´s choice of tempos. After the theme it rushes off again until the theme reappears.
An enjoyable first but not a great one. Bychkov´s recording sounds thinner but the music sounds greater, and I´m not mentioning all the rbcd´s available.

The Haydn variations is a charming piece. Normally that is. Two hesitations in the theme irritates me slightly - this is a simple melody and should be played straight. The variations are again well played but they seriously lack warmth and charm, and melancholy. It is all so extrovert that it is turned into an orchestral spectacular with little feeling.

The sound is one of the best from Pentatone and the sacd is worth buying for that reason alone. State of the art indeed.

I have often questioned the choices made by record companies when it comes to artists. I have heard Janowski before in Messiaen, rushed off his feet, Roussel, not up to Dutoit, and some Bruckner. I have never been impressed and I wasn´t impressed by the Franck/Chausson either. Why this hurry? A Bruckner cycle is to be made in Geneva...well, with his fondness for fast speeds it may not be the best choice of conductor. Let´s wait and see.

By the way, the chief conductor of the Pittsburgh orchestra is Manfred Honeck. Now there´s an interesting musician. I would much rather have his Brahms.

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Review by Windsurfer September 12, 2007 (9 of 11 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
I've listened to this several times now and I find it compelling....disconcerting possibly. But the thing is that I can't seem to get enough of it. As Edvin in his review above implies, these performances really move along. Maybe move along too fast. Or do they? It all depends on what you want in your Brahms 1st.

Unlike Edvin, I do not find this lacking "drama" - quite the contrary. What it lacks, if anything is "breathing space" for the ends of phrases. It certainly does not have that "spacious grandeur" that is often associated with the Brahms first. But the timing of the first movement is not actually very different from Sir Adrian Boult's: (15:36 for Boult vs 15:13 for Janowski), yet the Boult does not come off as being characterized by the sort of "press on" urgency that seems dominant in the Janowski.

Nevertheless, the biggest difference between the two discs is the sound quality. By comparison with the Janowski, the Boult is simply terrible. I couldn't finish listening to it, so spoiled I now am by the Janowski!

I am finding this performance, this recording addictive. It is unsettling, it's not how I expected to hear the Brahms First, and at first I disliked what I thought then to be excessive speed. But then I realized that if something is wrong, as stated above, it's not the speed per se, it is that Janowski fails to give the ends of phrases room to breath.

But the consequence of this is not entirely negative. Janowski and the Pittsburgh Symphony grab your attention from the outset and never give YOU room to mentally sit back and take your ease! This is a focused performance and it requires, no demands, that you the listener be as focused for the duration. This is true of the Haydn Variations as well.

The horn solos need special comment. In this symphony they are critically important. Here they are good enough, but one can imagine better had Philip Myers of the New York Philharmonic been standing in for the principal horn of the Pittsburgh. Frankly, he is the only horn I can imagine doing this really much better and it is moot. Like I said, here what we get is good enough to serve the music.

Of special note however is that this is the finest sounding recording I ever heard! I don't know really whether all the credit goes to the engineers for the extraordinary transparency, or whether quite a bit of it has to do with the conductor and the orchestral execution. Whatever, it is truly wonderful!

What you get here is Brahms of unusual power and transparency. I can't recommend it highly enough!

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Works: 2  

Johannes Brahms - Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68
Johannes Brahms - Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a