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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony no. 2 in D, op. 73
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)

Symphonia Domestica, op. 53
NDR Symphony Orchestra, Hamburg (Brahms), La Scala Orchestra, Milan (Strauss)/Carl Schuricht
Recorded in Hamburg, January 8th 1953 (Brahms), Milan, November 1941 (Strauss)
URANIA RM 11.905 [79:37]

Brahms once walked out of a performance of one of his symphonies conducted by the great Hans Richter because he found the pulse too rigid. Presumably he would have enjoyed Carl Schurichtís rhapsodic way with the first movement in particular (in the others one is conscious of an ebb and flow more than actual departures from the basic tempo). However, the conductor gets away with it, as he does in his rather celebrated studio recording of Bruckner 9, because he always seems to know where the music is going Ė Iíve heard some strict-tempo performances which have far less sense of direction Ė and because of the warm-hearted response he obtains from the orchestra. I donít think Iíve ever heard a Brahms performance more sung than this one, and those who feel that Brahms sometimes allows logical and structural considerations to inhibit his free-flowing musicality (Tchaikovsky thought this) might change their minds after hearing Schuricht. Another strength of this conductor is that he is able to keep rhythms light and textures clear even in slow tempi. The third movement is definitely on the slow side, but so balletically sprung is it that I found it quite delightful. Only in the finale did I feel that the more taut, architectural approach of Sir Adrian Boult brings greater dividends Ė his finale really crowns his performance, but I shall return to Schuricht often for his many insights along the way.

Warmth, tenderness and flexibility are also the keynotes of his Symphonia Domestica. Maybe, heard in the flesh, Schuricht would have brought enough clarity to the last movement to convince me that it is not all a lot of noise about nothing, but it is too much to expect these 1949 acetates to cope and I soon found my attention wandering. Not that the sound is bad for its age Ė a bit shallow and congested, but good enough to let us enjoy the gentler passages and Schurichtís handling of them. The orchestra of La Scala copes pretty well with music which was hardly their daily bread and combine with the conductor in a touching tribute to the composer who had died just two months earlier.

The recording of the Brahms is from a tape and the opening is a little damaged (also, the first note is very much shortened). Donít let this put you off as it soon settles down to a sound that is very acceptable for the date and the performance is definitely worth knowing. The booklet has no information of any kind about either the music or the conductor. It is a sign of our international times that a disc made in Italy should call the Brahms a "Symphony" when they might have been expected to use either their own language or Brahmsís. I donít know what language Strauss thought "Symphonia" was, but I donít blame them for "correcting" it to "Sinfonia".

Christopher Howell



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