Fine Brahms recordings abound Most spotlight conductors of past

September 10, 1998|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

If you're looking for recordings of the works on this weekend's Annapolis Symphony Orchestra programs, I can recommend these as the top of the firsts.

Most of the finest recordings of Brahms' First Symphony come on reissued budget compact discs that spotlight the conducting talents of previous generations.

Bruno Walter made sumptuous work of the First Symphony. His version on Sony has warmth and plenty of crackle when the occasion calls for it.

From Eugen Jochum on EMI's two-for-one "Double Forte" series, you get excellent readings of Symphonies 1, 2 and 3 for $17. A steal.

Sony recently released Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra in Symphonies 1 and 2, plus Brahms' "Variations on a Theme by Hayden" and two big overtures (the "Tragic" and "Academic Festival"), also in a two-for-one format. If you thought Ormandy was good only for hot, schmaltzy string sound, shame on you. He was one of the greats.

The Herbert von Karajan Brahms First worth buying is the Deutsche Grammophon Originals version paired with Schumann's "Spring" symphony. Avoid the others.

Among living conductors, stick with Wolfgang Sawallisch, who's pretty good on EMI's budget Red Line; or Christoph von Dohnanyi, who galvanizes the Cleveland Orchestra into action on Teldec.

In the First Piano Concerto, check out English pianist Stephen Hough and conductor Andrew Davis, who combine for a stunningly dramatic and beautiful Concerto No. 1, coupled with a thoughtful, lyrical (and quite different) Concerto No. 2 on the Virgin label. You can get the two-disc package for $11. An incredible deal.

Sparks flew everywhere when George Szell's Clevelanders accompanied pianist (and former ASO maestro) Leon Fleisher in both Brahms concertos. They have been released together at full price on Sony's Masterwork Heritage series and are worth every dime. Fleisher in his prime was as good a pianist as the United States has produced.

Szell also accompanied Sir Clifford Curzon in the D minor Concerto, a collaboration that still sounds good 40 years later, on the London label.

Other excellent versions come from Stephen Kovacevich (EMI) and Helene Grimaud on a new Erato release.

Ignore the rapturous reviews for the Emil Gilels/Jochum pairing of both concertos on DG's Originals series. Wonderfully played, yes, but the pacing is glacial. Since when does "profound" have to mean "slow, slow, slow"?

Pub Date: 9/10/98

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