Distinguished conductor/scholar Sir Charles Mackerras has been acclaimed for his insightful Telarc recordings of Mozart symphonies with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Now he has turned his attention to the works of Brahms, with revelatory results.
After extensive research, Sir Charles believes that Brahms performed his works with great freedom and elasticity of phrasing and tempo--much more so than our modern performances have suggested. He has based his assertions on actual performance markings in manuscripts, correspondence, and recollections of Brahms' students, friends, and associates, such as the conductors Max Fiedler and Fritz Steinbach.
Sir Charles' interpretations have been compared to those of Furtwangler, but Sir Charles himself maintains that his own tempi are much more flowing than Furtwangler's (in keeping with the pared-down sound of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra) while still retaining a similar flexibility of phrasing.
The newly-recorded original second movement of the First Symphony was reconstructed after its discovery by Robert Pascall of Nottingham University, and provides fascinating insight into Brahms' musical development. The original version (presented on these recordings as an alternate version) was used in the first performance in Karlsruhe in 1876, and all performances up to that at the Crystal Palace in 1877. It was following these performances that Brahms re-wrote the movement in ternary rather than rondo form.
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra uses Vienna horns, rotary valve trumpets, and narrow-bore trombones on these recordings, and the strings play with a great deal of portamento but little vibrato--in keeping with performance practices of the late nineteenth century.