Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|Johannes Brahms, Colin Davis, Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra|
Brahms: The 4 Symphonies: Overtures; Haydn Variations; Piano Concertos; Violin Concerto [Box Set]
A great conductor falls asleep at the switch
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 04/08/2009
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Until his lengthy and rather inexplicable sojourn to Munich, Colin Dvais had largely avoided much contact, on records at least, with Beethoven and Brahms. In that regard he was following the lead of an English predecessor, Sir Thomas Beecham. But soon Davos dutifully made recordings of all the symphonies from both composers -- how could he not if he wasnted to lead a major German orchestra? This Brahms cycle started in 1990 and ended with the concertos around the mid-Nineties. It is the blandest, sleepiest, least involved traversal of Brahms I've ever encoutered. (There's a reason you've never heard of it, or of Davis's even blander Beethoven cycle from Dresden.)
Since he is unraguably a great conductor, I'm content to let Davis have a pass on this one. The Gramophone, iron bound to give him a good review, wound up with adjectives like "orthodox" and "sensible," and that was intended as praise. But dip anywhere into the symphonies and you hear the same thing: lovely playing from the Bavarian Radio SO, excellent sonics, nicely judged balances, and a relentlessly easy-going manner. To amble through some of the most dramatic music written in the Romantic era is maddening. In the most gentle movements, like the Scherzo to Sym. #2, Davis's approach may pass muster, but then sample the heart-quickening allegro section in the finale, and the lethargy of the proceedings is unmistakable. The first statement of the passacaglia in the finale of the Fourth displays some energy, and moving at a clip, Davis shows signs of life. But emotional depth, turmoil, tragedy? Nothing of the sort.
With waning expectations I moved on to the concertos. RCA was hoping to promote Gerhard Oppitz as an international star, and there were claims that he was, at age forty, the greatest pianist in Germany. Throughout he's saddled with Davis's ho-hum conducting, however. That's a shame, because in Cto. #1 Oppitz shows strength and conviction. There's good control and assured phrasing. He can't gather momentum for the grand sweep that the first movement needs, yet one feels it's Davis's fault for putting the brakes on so drastically. The two piano concertos are symphonic in conception, and having to write off the orchestra is fatal. My heart sank when Cto. #2 began at a trudge, but there are acclaimed versions (from Arrau and Gilels) equally slow and heavy, so some listeners may react positively. Again I found that Oppitz had the strength to carry off this massive work, and I was impressed enough that I'd call his performance the high point of the entire set.
Violinist Kyoko Takezawa had a flirtation with fame when she gained a recording contract from RCA, but her playing was unfamiliar to me. The Bavarian musicians can play the Brahms Violin Cto. in their sleep, and Davis conducts the opening vigorously -- surprise. Takezawa is technically secure, but there's not much individuality, and her tone is rather wiry. It stays small, which makes it hard to put across Brahms's grand gestures. Yet she's certainly musical and expressive. I liked her attack in the finale, but with such a small tone it didn't register against the orchestra very vividly, and too soon Davis's conducting returned to its accumstomed indifference.
Thre's no need to summarzie. If you're going to stay away, now you know why.