It's intriguing to compare this recording of Brahms' first two symphonies by Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra from 2008 with recordings of the same works and the same orchestra by Wolfgang Sawallisch in the 1980s, Eugen Jochum in the 1970s, and Adrian Boult in the 1960s. Jurowski's tempos are generally much quicker, his textures much leaner, and his attacks much more incisive than any of the earlier recordings.
One might expect Andrew Manze's interpretations of Johannes Brahms' four symphonies to adhere to ideas of the movement for historically informed performance practice, due to his scholarship and dedication to authenticity in his early music performances. However, and somewhat paradoxically, he and the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra have delivered more or less mainstream readings on modern instruments; there are no signs of late 19th century woodwind or brass timbres, and the strings play with standard vibrato. Yet Manze's historical fact finding has gone to a deeper level than just replicating instrumentation or orchestral scale, and he has found numerous clues to Brahms' intentions in the composer's transcriptions of the symphonies for two pianos, which often vary with the published orchestral scores in accentuation, tempo indications, and phrasing. These are fine points that can be discerned with careful listening and great familiarity with many other recordings of the symphonies, both conventional and historic, but they may not be the main thing listeners will consider in appreciating this set.
Otto Klemperer's Brahms needs no introduction. It remains a classic reference edition, one of the very few complete cycles with absolutely no weak links. It's customary to call these performances "granitic", an adjective that certainly applies to the First Symphony but doesn't begin to describe the swift and thrilling finale of the Fourth, the grand but impulsive Third (with its first-movement repeat in place), or the warmly lyrical Second. In general Klemperer's unsentimental but always gripping approach to this music practically defines the word "idiomatic". The Alto Rhapsody with Christa Ludwig also is one of the great ones, while the shorter works share the same virtues as the symphonies.
This CD captures the impassioned live performances of Brahms’s first two symphonies conducted by the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s Principal Conductor Vladimir Jurowski. Jurowski came to international attention and recognition on disc in 2005 with two Tchaikovsky releases: Suite No.3 on PentaTone and on the LPO label his debut recording Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony, both widely and critically acclaimed releases. As Hugh Canning in The Sunday Times noted 'Jurowski is proving himself one of the rising podium stars, especially in his native Russian music'.
Editorial Reviews - Amazon.com
This was Istvan Kertesz' last major project. Early in the 1960s, he had conducted the Dvorřak symphonies with such authority that he recorded the complete cycle for London–an epoch-making set that's still highly recommended today. For those recordings Kertesz had the London Symphony Orchestra, but his best recordings were made in Vienna. His notorious dislike of rehearsals was bound to appeal to the equally relaxed and tradition-conscious Viennese, particularly when it came to music they knew well. The result is a real musical love-in, with the orchestra the star of the show and the performance some of the best Brahms that money can buy. –David Hurwitz
Szell's performances are very satisfying indeed. His Brahms is robust in strong movements, yet expressive in quiet ones, even if not so deeply embtional as we hear from some conductors. He practically never allows any mannerisms of interpretation… As to the playing, it is very fine; and it is good to be reminded again of this orchestra's soaring violins, its distinguished solo playing, its corporate discipline and rhythm. Very thrilling Brahms. T. H. Gramophone 1973