- Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68
- Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73
- Tragic Overture, in D minor, Op. 81
- Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90
- Variations on a Theme of Haydn for orchestra in B flat major (St. Anthony Variations), Op. 56a
- Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98
- Academic Festival Overture, for orchestra in C minor ("Akademische Festouvertüre"), Op. 80
This 2004 Warner Classics box set of Brahms' Symphonies Nos. 1-4 is a repackaging of recordings Daniel Barenboim made with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1993, and which first appeared in 1994 on the Erato label. While these performances should satisfy most collectors' needs, mainly because of their clarity and accuracy, some may find them to be expressively tepid and little more than technically polished run-throughs. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra obviously knows these works as well as any orchestra and certainly could play them perfectly without prodding from a conductor; Barenboim's contribution is plainly interpretative, and his readings are conservative, calm, and controlled. He has rendered the four symphonies with Classical detachment and a bare minimum of subjective Romantic involvement, and this intellectual approach may invite comparison with the poised performances by George Szell with the Cleveland Orchestra. But for those who enjoy more personal involvement and warmth -- for example, as in the stirring recordings by Semyon Bychkov on Avie -- Barenboim's set will seem emotionally uncompelling, uninspired, and merely serviceable for casual listening or reference. The "Variations on a Theme by Haydn," the "Tragic Overture," and the "Academic Festival Overture" round out the set, and provide enough musical value to justify the rather high reissue price. Erato's original sound is excellent and has not required any studio touch-ups.