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The Lebrecht Weekly


Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]

CD2: Abbado's Brahms First

By Norman Lebrecht / September 18, 2004

Brahms: First symphony
Berlin Phiharmonic/Claudio Abbado
(DG, Berlin 1990)
Berlin, September 1990. The Wall had been down for less than a year and already the city was divided again - between rich and poor, triumph and uncertainty. The gold-cladded Philharmonie hall no longer stood in a desolate bend at the end of the free world. It was now in prime development land amid a drilling of rampant ambition.
Herbert von Karajan was dead and his successor, Claudio Abbado, was an antipodal choice - reticent, socialist, modernist, stylishly Italian. To offset any preconceptions, he chose to open his reign with a Berlin cornerstone. Sitting centre-stalls, listening to the opening bombast of the Brahms First, I saw the old-timers around me beam with relief and satisfaction. They were taken in by the great noise, but as the symphony progressed Abbado's interpretation turned subversively reflective.
The big tune in the finale, which Karajan used to build up to like a firework climax, rose organically and almost imperceptibly out of the preceding texture. I was enraptured by the performance and later by the recording. More than just a fresh take on Brahms this was a Brahms for our times.

Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]



(c) La Scena Musicale 2001