, May 2012
this is one astoundingly hard-hitting, dramatically intense Brahms First, and one viscerally impactful and astonishingly revealing recording.
No reading of a score provides a better example than does Skrowaczewski’s of the axiom that the metronome is not the sole determinant in how we perceive the relationship between tempo and kinetics. There is such thrust, tension, and sheer dynamism to this performance that it sweeps you up and carries you with it on a cresting wave that never breaks. Moreover, while Skrowaczewski adopts tempos in all four movements that are more moderately paced than one might wish, his tempo relationships, both internally within movements and externally between movements, feel absolutely right. The gear shifts…are perfectly judged.
The Saarbrücken orchestra, too, besides turning in a performance that can match any world-class ensemble in technical execution, lends its own sound coloration to what we normally hear from the internationalized, homogenized major American and European orchestras. The oboes, for instance, will be noted for their somewhat pungent tone, giving them a bit of piquancy that I find both distinctive and characterful. Also, the horns and trombones in the famous “sunrise” transition passage leading to the main Allegro in the last movement are not as mellow and blended as they are in many familiar ensembles, the result being that one actually hears the different tonal properties, as well as the individual notes, of each instrument.
This brings me to the recording, which opens up Brahms’s score and penetrates its innermost workings as I’ve never heard them before. Timpani strokes and pizzicatos in the string basses and cellos have a firm, full-bodied physicality to them that lend a deep, visceral presence to the sonic image; even the high-lying violin pizzicatos that so often sound tinny, hollow, and choked are here reproduced with resonant solidity. But most amazing of all to me are the contrapuntal details visible in the score that I don’t think I’ve ever heard brought out in a recording.
…this is such a riveting performance and such a fantastic recording…Of recent, modern Brahms Firsts to come my way, this one is more than recommendation worthy; it’s a must-buy testimonial. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review on Fanfare