"Sir John Eliot Gardiner chooses a route to Brahms’s first symphony through the choral works Begräbnisgesang, Schicksalslied and Mendelssohn’s Mitten wir im Leben sind. It’s a subtle and clever idea, preparing the listener for the symphony’s revelations. Some of the orchestral tempi and texture will startle those who prefer more luxuriant accounts, but the ready woodwinds and edgy string sound give extra momentum to this reading, which - as always with Eliot Gardiner - is steeped in scholarly preparation."
The Observer - 14 September 2008
"John Eliot Gardiner’s label was launched to release his complete live "pilgrimage" through the liturgical cantatas of JSB. It has rapidly acquired a glowing reputation, thanks to projects such as the forthcoming survey of Brahms symphonies, taken live from concerts, which seeks to put the large-scale works in the context of less familiar Brahms choral music and earlier work that influenced him. Mendelssohn is the "guest" composer here, with an a cappella Lutheran motet that takes the chorales of Bach and Renaissance composers as a starting point. The rarities here are the Begräbnisgesang (Burial Song, 1858) and the Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny, 1871) which look forward and back to the Requiem, and underpin Brahm’s debt to long-standing choral traditions. The singing of the Monteverdians is luminous."
The Sunday Times - 21 September 2008
"Conductor John Eliot Gardiner believes that Brahms’s Symphony No.1 (SDG) has strong links with his earlier choral works - he describes the symphonic writing as ’vocal’ - and here proves his point by prefacing a performance with three large-scale choral pieces. Beautifully performed by the period-instrument Orchestre Révolutionnaire Et Romantique and the Monteverdi Choir, it makes for a richly satisfying listen."
The Metro - 26 September 2008
Recording of the Month
…“This new Brahms symphony cycle has been launched auspiciously and, judged by this first release, seems likely to become an important and distinguished one as it unfolds. The juxtaposition with other, highly relevant music by Brahms and others adds a crucial additional dimension. I look forward keenly to the remaining instalments…”
MusicWebInternational - 30 September 2008
"This weekend at the Royal Festival Hall in London, John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique complete their Brahms project with the Third and Fourth Symphonies, performed within the context of choral works both by Brahms himself and by earlier composers whom he admired. This first disc brings together performances from the beginning of the cycle a year ago: recordings of the First Symphony, Schicksalslied and the rarely heard early work Begrabnisgesang, as well as Mendelssohn’s equally unusual Mitten Wir im Leben, all taken from concerts in the Festival Hall and the Salle Pleyel in Paris. The mix works as well on disc as it did live; Gardiner’s period-instrument textures and no-nonsense tempos buoy up music that can too easily get bogged down. The disc is beautifully packaged, and the accompanying notes include an interesting exchange on Brahms between Gardiner and composer Hugh Wood. A good start to what promises to be a fascinating series."
The Guardian - 6 October 2008
"Gardiner’s Brahms demands fresh ears. It is quicker than any other period interpretations, more alert to the layering of Brahm’s symphonic argument, more liberal with portamento and more obvious in its vibrato-free veneer. If the result is a shade didactic, with Gardiner sometimes unable to elicit the very flexibility of phrasing and elasticity of tempo he talks about so eloquently in his programme essay, it is still enlightening. His thesis, brilliantly executed by the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique and Monteverdi Choir, is that Brahms laid the foundations for his First Symphony on the choral music of his most cherised German forebears. Whether that enriches the voicing of the symphony’s instrumental parts is open to question. The CD’s value lies in its advocacy of the early choral works that led Brahms towards the Symphony - the Begräbnisgesang and Schicksalslied (with Mendelssohn’s Mitten wir im Leben sind thrown in for good measure), signalling an unmistakable debt to the Bach Chorale."
**** [4 Stars]
The Financial Times - 1 November 2008
Performance ***** Sound *****
"As if restoring a painting by an old master to its former glory John Eliot Gardiner provocatively wipes away layers of fusty performance practice to reveal the vitality and originality of Brahms’s First Symphony. The composer may have waited till he was well over 40 before completing this masterpiece, but Gardiner’s interpretation, supported by the lean sonorities and feisty playing of the ORR, removes any hint of middle-aged spread, focusing all its efforts on projecting the dynamism, ardour and intensity of the writing.
Gardiner drives the opening paragraph of the first movement at a surprisingly urgent pace, the horns cutting through the foggy contrapuntal texture with almost Stravinskian savagery. Sir Charles Mackerras adopts a similar tactic in his Telarc recording with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, but whereas Mackerras relaxes his grip too much in the ensuing quieter section Gardiner maintains a much greater sense of doom-laden expectancy highlighting the unsettling nature of Brahms’s asymmetric phrase structure and driving us inexorably towards the propulsive Allegro.
Yet the performance is by no means all breathlessness and bluster. The Andante sostenuto is highly expressive with the strings using a touch of portamento to enhance the heartfelt lyricism of the melodic writing. Gardiner also brings a real sense of the dance to the ensuing movement, the descending woodwind patterns projected with wonderful charm and elegance, while the folk-like simplicity of the Finale’s great tune is far preferable to the portentous approach heard in too many other interpretations.
Recorded live at the Royal Festival Hall, this first instalment in a complete Brahms cycle may not offer the technically immaculate playing of some rivals but outstrips most of them in its immediacy. Enhanced by equally powerful accounts of the rarely heard Begräbnisgesang and the Schicksalslied, this is one of the most stimulating Brahms releases to have appeared in recent years."
BBC Music Magazine - 3 November 2008
"This is the kind of didactic programme that, once upon a time, you could have expected to hear on Radio3; it would also make good material for a lecture-recital. Gardiner’s plan is to record the four symphonies and the German Requiem in the context of significant choral works by Brahms himself and by composers whom he admired. Here, three fine pieces on death and mortality precede the pounding opening to the First Symphony. The former are beautifully performed....Well worth hearing..."
Classic FM Magazine - December 2008
Performance ***** Sound ***
"Offers a striking, almost pungent clarity in the realization of the orchestral textures with their phrase articulation."
Audiophile Audition - 5 November 2008
"Though Brahms’s first symphony concludes with a life-affirming Beethovian theme, the first release of John Eliot’s cycle of recordings begins with the sombre brass and woodwind of the "Begräbnisgesang". Sandwiched between this and the radiant "Schicksalslied " Mendelssohn’s "Mitten wir im leben sind" sounds thin. The symphony itself is dynamic, astringent: admirably transparent in its textures and super-sweet in Peter Hanson’s violin solo at the close of the "Andante sostenuto".
The Independent On Sunday - 9 November 2008
"... as the series has grown it has become my favorite of the Bach cycles. Over Harnoncourt’s, Koopman’s, and Suzuki’s, among the most recent series.All three of these are competitive and have particular virtues and fans who value them accordingly. But what Gardiner brings is an energy and joie de vive which in the main escapes the others..." -
"...what especially delights this listener is the sense of freshness Gardiner brings to the task... the conductor and his instrumentalists provide us with something quite apart from the usual sit-up-straight-and-listen-because-this-is-great-stuff performance. Call it suppleness, a lightness of touch, and most tellingly, an obvious affection for the music."
"Every instrumental line is played with gripping conviction, and the strings swoop from note to note the way they did a century ago. The first movement introduction assaults the heavens, and the slow movement is almost sentimental but with backbone... the orchestral texture has Mr. Gardiner’s characteristically luminous transparency. You’d think you were listening to some pre-Furtwängler conductor in fabulous sound."
Dallas Morning News
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