, May 2012
Contrary to what the record label name might suggest, these are not arrangements of Brahms’s symphonies for two pianos. The company, which is based in South Africa, was founded by pianists Nina Schumann and Luis Magalhães, hence the name “Twopianists.”
All four of the symphonies presented on these three discs document live performances by the same conductor and orchestra, but each occurred in a different venue and/or on a different date, which leads me to conclude that Daniel Raiskin and the Koblenz-based Rhenish State Philharmonic were either on a very extended, though geographically limited, tour, or that they make frequent visits to relatively nearby ports of call. The latter seems more logical, since the dates between the earliest and latest performances span a year and a half, April 2008 to September 2009.
Among recent complete traversals of Brahms’s symphonies, there hasn’t been one I’ve been able to recommend as a whole; each has had its strengths and weaknesses, with any given conductor excelling in one of the scores only to fail dismally in another. Raiskin’s cycle, though recorded over time and not all in the same locale, comes the closest of any I’ve received for review to earning an across-the-board recommendation. His grasp of Brahms is impressive, his Rhenish orchestra is uniformly excellent, and the recordings are superbly done.
All repeats are observed; tempos and tempo relationships are rational, reasonable, and sound innately right throughout; and there is some beautiful solo work by first-desk players. The concertmaster plays the solo in the Andante of the First Symphony as ravishingly as I ever heard it, and the principal flutist could make a flute lover out of the flute-hating Mozart with the solo in the fourth movement of the Fourth Symphony.
The orchestra’s horn and trombones, so crucial in these scores, play with a plush, mellow tone that bathes Brahms in a golden glow, the strings are full and luxuriant, and the winds blend in perfect balance. But significant credit must also go to Raiskin for his readings. He really doesn’t miss a beat, figuratively or literally. Without imposing a single idiosyncratic or aberrant interpretive idea of his own on the music, Raiskin allows Brahms to speak for himself and, as a result, it’s amazing the wonderful details that emerge, seemingly all by themselves. If I had to sum up these performances in just one phrase, I would say it’s the utter naturalness with which they flow.
The engineers have done a remarkable job in normalizing the sound so that acoustical differences in the halls are not noticeable in the soundstage imagery one hears on the recordings. Some listeners, I know, are bothered by applause at the end of live performances, so be aware that applause is briefly heard but fairly rapidly attenuated. Otherwise, the audiences are dead quiet throughout.
I suppose it would be ungenerous of me to wish that Brahms’s two concert overtures had been included—one each could easily have filled out the first two discs, which contain nothing but the First and Second symphonies, respectively—but with all four symphonies on three discs and all repeats observed, I’m willing to overlook this one lack of economy. If you’re looking for a new set of the Brahms symphonies in which performances of all of them are equally excellent and equally satisfying—a rarity, for sure—this is it. Very strongly recommended. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review on Fanfare