Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
HIP without tears
Neil Ford | Sydney, Australia | 06/23/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Roger Norrington has what we might politely call a "mixed" reputation, and his recordings of the Beethoven symphonies with the London Classical Players, in particular, have evoked condemnation hilarious in its hyperbole. Part of the problem in that case was a rather unflattering tonal profile, which was taken for interpretational coarseness when it was due, at least in part, to the production style. Norrington's later Beethoven cycle has received a greater proportion of praise, at least in part because of improved recording quality.
Norrington also recorded Brahms with the LCP, and in this case has taken (or had taken for him) the unusual decision of issuing his new recordings in a visual format. This brings him into competition with the DVD cycles of Bernstein and Karajan (plus a "new" one by Masur), but not direct competition, because of course his approach is somewhat different to those maestros.
These new performances use a fairly large and conventional modern orchestra, the main nod to authentic performance being a lack of vibrato from the strings (although you'll notice a few players who just can't shake the habit!). (The violin soloist in the second movement of the first symphony does use vibrato - rather too much for my taste, and a little too in contrast to the rest of the performance.) Sound is good (recorded in 2006) but a bit string-heavy. I would've liked to hear more from the horns, and perhaps for the second violins (antiphonally placed) to be more prominent.
As for the performances themselves, the Stuttgart players do themselves proud (I particularly admired the flautist), and Norrington generally does likewise. In his Beethoven he has a tendency to conduct from phrase to phrase (only Mengelberg could really get away with that), but his interpretations here are more coherent. These are good, convincing performances, fairly conventional overall, except for the string section's lack of vibrato. I was in fact wishing his tempos were faster - Brahms was in his time a Sturm und Drang composer, not yet a national monument, and a confessed acolyte of Beethoven, so surely performances of his work could stand to be a bit more _fierce_! But the market for a Brahms cycle on DVD is limited, and I suppose Norrington is wise not to frighten the horses here.
Each symphony has an optional introduction, consisting of Norrington in conversation with an interviewer (in English - there is also an option with a German translator speaking over the interview). I found these enjoyable and occasionally enlightening. I liked how he would rhapsodise on the meaning of some particular section, and then pull up short and explain, "Well, of course, these are only my own silly ideas about the music, and shouldn't be taken as a literal interpretation." I did wish that there had been a concluding interview to watch after all the symphonies - that would have tied things up very nicely.
The extras consist of minute-long audio samples from what seem to be all of Norrington's recordings for Hanssler. His Berlioz sounded particulary effective - a shame I'm not a Berlioz fan.
In all, these are solid recordings of the Brahms symphonies in the most modern sound and picture available, with worthwhile extras. And if you hadn't been told these performances were "historically informed", you probably wouldn't notice!
Note: the product information here is incorrect. All the symphonies are on one DVD, the aspect ration is 16:9 widescreen, and audio is DD 5.1 or 2.0."