This second release completes Jansons' first Brahms cycle, taken from live performances. I admire the Bavarian Radio SO's in-house label, which has come through consistently with top-tier recorded sound, as good as any studio recordings on the market. The orchestra is world class, and its rounded tone fits into a space between Vienna and Berlin _ I hope to hear them in concert one day, but they rarely seem to tour the U.s. Every release from BR Klassik is worth trying out.
Unfortunately, Jansons has a slack, draggy view of Brahms in Sym. 1. There is almost no propulsion, and only the orchestra's amber tones holds the listener's interest - and then only for a few minutes. Jansons is a variable conductor, and his worst fault, when a reading doesn't click, is to put one foot ahead of the other without any interpretative interest. that's what happens here in a reading that has spurts of energy but long stretches of dog-paddling. Among recent Brahms Firsts, this is falls behind Rattle's on EMI with the Berliners by a good margin. Much less publicized is a masterful Brahms First, a live concert on Signum, where Christoph von Dohnanyi and the Philharmonia reveal the mastery that he is capable of in the autumn of his career.
On CD 2, which is priced to be a free bonus disc, Jansons takes a light-handed, lyrical approach to the first movement of the Brahms Fourth that seems totally wrong-headed to me. Here, too, there is little forward motion; the reading relies too much on lovely sounds made by the orchestra - Brahms didn't write his music in a caramel factory. the slow movement is suave to the point of being languid. The Scherzo is straightforward and nicely shaped but underpowered. The finale in passacaglia form is one of Brahms's greatest symphonic creations, and Jansons knows it. He leads a respectful, largely uneventful reading when you go back and hear any of the great Fourths. I really wonder, hearing all these honeyed sounds, what Brahms means to this conductor.