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CD Review

Johannes Brahms

Symphony #1 in C minor, Op. 68

National Philharmonic Orchestra/Carlos Païta
Lodia LO-CD779
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Well, this is what all the fuss was about! After some rather uninspiring Beethoven performances on this same label, Lodia – via Albany Music – gives us this electrifying Brahms' First. Beautifully polished from first note to last and full to the brim with a singing, warm quality, this is ample evidence of Carlos Païta's excellence as one of the great cult conductors.

The National Philharmonic made Stokowski's last Columbia/CBS recordings, and it's the old man's Brahms that comes readily to mind. The music has a kind of effortless flow, especially in the stings, which are stunning. There's passion here; the first movement is relentlessly pushed forward. Where some conductors pull the music about like taffy, Païta is content to let the music speak for itself. The timpani is a bit enthusiastic for my tastes, but the tuttis hit you like a ton of bricks. You'll love it.

The inner movements are breathtaking. The Andante seldom has sounded more lovely, the third movement rarely so bucolic. The National Philharmonic plays with all out commitment and total confidence. The shaky and occasionally crude sounds made by Carlos Païta's own Philharmonic-Society forces are not to be found here. The finale is unquestionably outstanding. Grand, eloquent, and marvelously conducted, the music surges irrepressibly onward. The main tune is warm as sunshine. Are the brass in the same movement a touch vulgar? Probably. I still adore the string playing, and the rest of the music is so gorgeous that I'm prepared to excuse it.

Albany Music has done us a real favor bringing all these Lodia titles back to us. While they have undoubtedly varied in quality – indeed, they are more variable than his cult would have us believe – the fact remains he was a very talented musician in his prime and some of the performances are nothing short of revelatory. Here's one, a truly great performance with great players in great sound. It makes for great Brahms, and everyone should give it a chance.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman