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Symphony No. 1

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Product Details

  • Performer: Monteverdi Choir, Orchestre Révolutionnaire Et Romantique Gardiner
  • Composer: Brahms; Mendelssohn
  • Audio CD (Dec 23 2009)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Sdg
  • ASIN: B001DCQJ4A
  • In-Print Editions: Audio CD
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #97,622 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9d32d654) out of 5 stars 8 reviews
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9f3d3888) out of 5 stars One fantastic CD April 16 2009
By Osvaldo Colarusso - Published on
Format: Audio CD
This CD pleased me very much.First of all the Monteverdi choir is, today, one of the most impressive vocal ensembles . The Mendelssohn, in this CD , for a Capella choir , sounds magnificent. And the version of the superb Song of Destiny is one of the best I heard. The first three tracks are the sufficient reason to buy this record , but after we can hear one of the most beautiful versions available of the first Symphony of Brahms. The orchestra play so well, and the transparency, all the time ,make you hear things that simply don't appear in others versions.I am very happy to hear this CD, and I'm anxious to listen the others Symphonies. After the wonderful work with the Cantatas of Bach, the Monteverdi Choir and Gardiner, with this superb orchestra,shows once more the serious intentions of this new label.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By J. Buxton - Published on
Format: Audio CD
It must be said that this is a committed performance, often inspired, and features excellent sound. But I have to question the insistence on using period string technique in just doesn't sound right. Using very little vibrato and little or no portamento is just plain weird for Brahms in my opinion. This becomes especially evident in the second movement, which begs for some feeling, and Gardiner just does not deliver. In sum, I didn't like it. If you must have a more period informed Brahms set, go for the Mackerras/Scottish Chamber set which contains many of the best qualities of this recording but also more flexibility in phrasing, and more romantic feeling.
HASH(0x9dd83d50) out of 5 stars Cosi cosi (non fan tutte) June 2 2016
By Caveat Auditor - Published on
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I have been a "Jeggy" fan for decades and have just about every recording made with the Monteverdi Choir, Orchestre R&R as well as English Baroque Soloists. First of all, let me get the easy stuff out of the way: The three choral works on this CD are superbly played and sung, aside from being wonderful music which is almost never heard live in concert halls these days (if it was before these days either). These three pieces and performances easily deserve 5 stars and more, and alone make buying the CD worth the money. So I'll skip them by saying they're Jeggy et al. at their finest.

As for the Brahms 1, it leaves me sitting on the fence (fortunately not of the iron spike kind). I have heard this symphony in more live performances and on CDs than I can count. Fortunately, though, the performances I've heard over the years have differed pretty widely, from stodgy, Wagner-like slow performances lasting an hour, to fast ones zipping through it in about 40 minutes (which makes it sound surprisingly Dvorak-like).

Needless to say, the composer apart from Beethoven who sticks his head up faster than you can whack it back down in this symphony is Schumann. If you get the Beethoven and Schumann insider feeling, the performance isn't all bad, and Gardiner does provide that feeling, albeit with some reservations from me.

I wasn't particularly shocked by anything Jeggy did with it. I mean, I know what he stands for, and I've heard his Beethoven, Schumann and Berlioz recordings, among others. And just FYI, I listened to the recording once with Brahms' manuscript score, and once more with the first edition score - the latter being a heck of a lot easier to read than the former - just to check on the purported "authenticity." Having read some "professional" reviews (bwahahahahahaahhaaaa!!! - man, has musical criticism ever sunk in quality since George Bernard Shaw) in blogs and online music magazines, I can't say I felt the rapture of some, nor the disdain of others after listening to the recording.

First, let me state the things which I found interesting and liked. Brahms had a fondness for the valve-less "inatural" horn. We know this because his Horn Trio was written with the natural horn (aka waldhorn) in mind when he wrote it, and it doesn't appear that he changed his mind when he revised a couple of decades later. This preference is a vital clue regarding how Brahms must have wanted his brass section to sound. Today, one almost exclusively hears it played on a valve horn. The valve horn is a son of a beach to play as it is, and the waldhorn is twice as bad as that. Also, the valve horn has a smoother, richer and more equal sound which goes together well with modern-style string instruments and playing. The waldhorn, on the other hand, while quite docile-sounding when played in the piano to mezzo forte range, becomes really gritty in louder passages.

That doesn't sound very good when pitted against a modern grand piano and a violin with all-metal strings and a violinist on auto vibrato. When you add a 1860s state of the art piano and a violin played with gut and steel-wound gut strings without a lot of vibrato all the time, the combination is revelatory. Try listening to the great Harmonia Mundi release from 2008 with 2008, Isabelle Faust, Alexander Melnikov and Teunis van der Zwart Brahms: Horn Trio, Violin Sonata Op.78, Fantasies Op.116.

Knowing this recording, I wasn't particularly aghast at the rawness of the brass section and "low-vibrato" string section. In fact, I rather enjoyed this aspect of the performance, because I don't doubt that in terms of pure sound - as opposed to performance - this version is probably closer to what one would have heard at the premiere of the symphony than what you hear in Karajan's version.

I thought the tempi and rubati that Jeggy uses are within the ballpark as well, and come off without too many hitches. Personally, I find the hour-long Wagner-sounding performances of this symphony insufferable, and much prefer the Dvorak-like performances, since they don't make me yawn and look at my watch.

Considering the rather fast tempi, less vibrato in the strings and "natural" brass instruments (I don't know about the trumpets, but I'm pretty sure they're with valves given the chromaticism in their parts), the intonation of the orchestra is surprisingly good and is a testimony to the great instrumentalists Jeggy is able to gather around him (no doubt the pay checks help as well). I did not hear any conspicuous out of tune playing, and that's saying a lot for the Orchestre R&R. Overall, the contrasts between the instrumental sections and a lovely emphasis on the deep strings when they go into the coal cellar was quite pleasing.

Now to the less fortunate results of Jeggy's direction. When you have three orchestral sections (woodwind, brass and strings) that sound so different in timbre, you really have to exert yourself to make the music come together as a conceptual whole. It IS possible, but it is not easy. Jeggy doesn't convince me in this department - I mean, the very word "symphony" is derived from Greek '''''''' (symphonia), meaning "agreement or concord of sound." If conductors can manage to pull together the vast built-in differences in, e.g., Sallinen's symphonies, it is possible in Brahms, even on period instruments. And I know that the Orchestre R&R can do it, since their consort in especially the Schumann and Berlioz recordings is magnificent.

I don't know whether this is a byproduct of the balancing issue mentioned in the paragraph above, but another noticeable demerit that must be laid at Jeggy's door is the lack of overall variance in dynamics. Brahms wrote piano and pianissimo in his score, but for whatever reason, the Orchestre R&R seems unable to drop below a mezzo forte. If you're going to let the brass blow at full blast whenever allowed by the score (and believe me, that's what Jeggy does, especially in the passage in the 1st movement where the orchestra plays piano while the solo horn is required to play forte), it is bliss when an orchestra descends into a calming pianissimo. This element is lacking in the present recording.

Another area in which Jeggy didn't convince me was in the use of slides in the strings that he sanctioned as the maestro di tutti maestri. One is not used to hearing glissandi in orchestral music today, yet when one listens to restored old cylinder recordings from the turn of the 19th to 20th centuries, there is no doubt that glissandi were far more ubiquitous than they are today.

I say this with the caveat that it wasn't possible to record a full symphony orchestra (at least not very satisfactorily, since the earliest surviving intentional recording of music, which was played at the conference introducing the phonograph to London in 1888 was of Handel's Israel in Egypt with "a chorus of 4000 voices recorded with phonograph over 100 yards away;" but I challenge you to listen to it and tell me which part of the oratorio is actually being played) with the equipment available then, but at most a string instrument with piano, maybe a string quartet later on. So while we know - more or less - how, for example, Fritz Kreisler played and Caruso sang around 1900, we don't really have any larger ensemble recordings until right before the start of WW I, and then mostly bands because they were LOUD enough to be picked up the primitive equipment. Orchestral recording doesn't really take off until the 1920s or thereabouts. That's already over 2 generations and 1 world war after the 1st was premiered.

Jeggy has decided to reintroduce modern audiences to the orchestral string glissando in this recording. All well and fine, but as a musician learns pretty early on, if you do something, there has to be an idea and consistency behind what it is you do, because otherwise, it sounds silly. This is sadly lacking in the Orchestre R&R's playing. I counted maybe 3-4 slides in various places, and that is just nonsense. Portamento slides would have been used more often than that or not at all, the latter being the case today (except for very rare instances). When they're used in this recording, it seems arbitrary, and because they're used so seldom, they sound odd when they finally do appear, stylistically correct or not. Sorry, Jeggy, but you'll just have to go back to the ol' drawing board with those things.

There are times when the tempo changes in the orchestra don't come off as naturally as one would like to hear. Rubato is not so much a question of period performance or not, but rather of an organic development in the tempo of the music. You can start out the Marcia funebre in Beethoven's 3rd Adagio assai as indicated, and a good musician will take you from there to presto and back again in the same movement without it sounding unnatural (though it would, obviously, be artificial beyond anything that Beethoven intended). I may be exaggerating a bit, but you get my point. There are times in the Brahms symphony where the developments in tempo make you feel a bit uneasy. On the other hand, one must also say that there are times when Jeggy's slightly anarchically extreme touches make you feel very excited.

All in all, therefore, I'd say that the Brahms 1st is a wash when it comes to good and bad in this performance. Unfortunately, that is not a satisfactory result in a classical music performance, which has to leave you either thrilled or thoroughly disgusted if convincingly performed. Anything but "meh." Jeggy's discography is vast, and it would be strange if there weren't some "meh" performances among the hundreds. But this is where a great artist has to halt him/herself a bit. Just because you can record anything you want anytime you want, SHOULD you record anything anytime you want? The obvious answer is no.

Also, it seems to me that Jeggy is your typical English upper class intellectual. Very erudite and able to express his/her erudition more charmingly and eloquently than just about any other intellectual from other lands, while sounding slightly crazy in a maniacal way. Over the years, Gardiner has let some idee fixes of his run a bit too rampant, which has resulted in some performances that should earn him an honorary Odd Fellowship, if he doesn't already have a Unity Meritorious Service Jewel, that is.

Mental conditions such as this tend to proliferate among artists who have met with much success and admiration: The sycophants are many and the honest friends who counsel wisely are few. Perhaps instead of finding differences between how Gardiner thinks music was performed in the 18th and 19th centuries and get cute about it, he should think more about bridging the gap.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9dd83d44) out of 5 stars My favorite Brahms Aug. 28 2013
By loose filter - Published on
Format: Audio CD
Gardiner's readings are not for everyone, but I just love his Brahms symphony cycle more than any I've ever heard, live or recorded. The outstanding ORR plays with extraordinary fire and polish as usual, and make this repertoire sound so fresh and vital.

What is specifically excellent about Gardiner's work here, for me, are two things: his ability to always clearly highlight Brahms' development of material without pedantically overbalancing such elements in the overall texture, and his extremely deft and organic management of transitions. Those two things make the music make real sense while maintaining a stellar sense of pacing and affect.

Definitely a must-own for any fan of Brahms' symphonies.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa018ce4c) out of 5 stars Never ceases to amaze March 30 2013
By Marco's Mom - Published on
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir never ever cease to amaze by their high level of professionalism and excellence. Keep it up!