Because of the stellar talent involved, I can see rating this CD higher. For me, however, it typifies Levin'es star-crossed career as an orchestral conductor. As I am now rediscovering, he has made any number of excellent CDs outside the opera house--several are gathered in a bargain 4-disc box from DG that samples the best of the orchestral recordings he made from Chicago to Berlin.
But Levine didn't catch on with the public or with critics, apparently, as an interpreter of Brahms, Beethove, Mozart, Schubert, and Mendelssohn in an era dominated by Karajan. Without the German classics an orchestral career is hard to build. DG kept issuing one admirable reading after another, and now we know, from his Boston tenure, how good Levine really was, especially with Mahler and the twentieth century. This Brahms Thrid is a straight-ahead reading with no special point of view, however; it quickly lapses into cool efficiency. The Tragic Over. is more gripping, and the Alto Rhapsody is fine, albeit von Otter can't erase memories of Janet Baker or Christa Ludwig in their classic EMI readings with Boult and Klemperer respectively. She strains for emotion instead of naturally letting it flow from her
I think I will keep on buying as many Levine orchestral recorings as I can find, because in recent years he has done such wonders in Boston that there must be many hidden gems in his past efforts. His neglected Munich years, which just ended, have produced some exceptional readings on the obscure Oehme label, for example. But this Brahms Thrid isn't to my liking.
P.S. 2012 - I did go on to find dozens of great Levine orchestral recordings, and in hindsight, even though I will let this review stand as is, I was too hard on his Brahms. Both cycles, from Vienna and Chicago, have a great deal of appeal.