Now with all this content remastered for SACD, the opening of the First Symphony is imposing, the LSO’s playing at once concentrated and powerful, Bernard Haitink unfolding a spacious and considered account, structurally coherent, with plenty of detail and dynamism, length and line paramount above intervention (not that Haitink was one for the latter) with the LSO fully seized of the music and in its response to the conductor, someone who said little in rehearsal yet achieved such distinctive results.
Following cycles recorded in Amsterdam and Boston (both Philips) this LSO integral (2003 & 2004, Barbican Hall) is Haitink’s third and final Brahms set. Symphony One ends gloriously – with no superficial broadening. Symphony 2 is quite leisurely, but not loose, with a deep slow movement and a fiery Finale, the latter with something of an adrenalin-rush come the conclusion. It’s a shame that the first-movement exposition repeat is omitted, although Haitink did observe it in Boston and then with the LSO in October 2017 when I wrote that he conducted Brahms Two with “notable integrity” and that the orchestra played “like angels”. So too earlier.
Symphony Three is presented grandly in the first movement (repeat observed), extra mileage given to lyrical moments, and not just in the middle movements, both shapely, and a Finale that is trenchant, with no need to hurtle, accents bite. On these recordings’ first releases (separate discs) I was especially taken with Symphony Four, resplendent, and I remain compelled by the room Haitink creates and the direction and lofty/stoical expression he finds within it (reminding of Szell’s and Celibidache’s readings).
Also included are an intense and weighty Tragic Overture, an impressive ‘Double’ Concerto (violin and cello), musing and ardent in equal measure, with Gordan Nikolitch and Tim Hugh as soloists (LSO principals at the time), and the five-movement Second Serenade (Brahms omits violins) is delightfully done, superb woodwinds.
These new-minted listening experiences (produced originally by the late James Mallinson and engineered by either Jonathan Stokes or Neil Hutchinson) are on LSO Live LSO0570 [4 SACDs].