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26 June, 2013

Johannes Brahms
Recommended Recordings



A German Requiem
(Janice Chandler, Nathan Gunn; Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Utah Symphony Orchestra; Craig Jessop, conductor)
One of the last projects legendary conductor Robert Shaw had been working on at the time of his death in 1999 was an adaptation of Brahms's early masterpiece "Ein Deutsches Requiem" into English. In realizing that vision and committing it to disc, Craig Jessop does his former mentor proud, while the sublime Requiem itself gains yet another layer of meaning.

Ballades, Rhapsodies, etc
(Glenn Gould Edition)
Glenn Gould's accounts of the late pieces, recorded in 1960, are among the most affecting statements he made. He manages to balance the music on the edge of an almost unbearable emotional intensity without becoming larmoyant or dipping into salon sentimentality. The result is downright disturbing and depressing. But few pianists have achieved such extraordinary distillations of Brahms's late style as Gould does here, conveying painful passion held in check and peering into the counterpoint, yet maintaining an overall fluidity within profound emotional stasis. The recording is very present. (review by Ted Libbey)

Brahms: The Four Symphonies, etc
(Philharmonia Orchestra; Arturo Toscanini, conductor)
Sparks flew in the 1952 encounter between the Philharmonia Orchestra and Arturo Toscanini, whom the orchestra's founder, Walter Legge, considered his prize catch. Testament's first-ever release of the two Royal Festival Hall all-Brahms concerts, remastered from Legge's tapes, are much more than mementos of a historic collaboration--they're Brahms interpretations to live with.

At 85, Toscanini still led the most urgent performances to be heard anywhere, but along with his customary propulsion is a tendency to stop and smell the roses, particularly in his lovingly attentive Third Symphony. Even though the sound is dated and the audience is more than usually audible (pranksters set off fireworks), the wealth of detail in these readings of the four symphonies (along with "Tragic Overture" and "Haydn Variations") encapsulates a lifetime's thinking. Similar results from another octogenarian, Gunter Wand, in fine sound, grace RCA's Brahms symphonies.

Brahms: Violinkonzert; Schumann: Fantasie
(Anne-Sophie Mutter; New York Philharmonic Orchestra; Kurt Masur, conductor)
Miracles CAN happen! Anne-Sophie Mutter is a great violinist, no doubt about it (and the highest paid classical performer in Germany, according to some sources). Kurt Masur is reliable, but rarely inspired. Well, here's one of those evenings where everything went just right, for this is a Brahms concerto that stands shoulder to shoulder with the great recordings of the past. Mutter plays with her customary scrupulous attention to detail, but also with a more than usual dose of passion and fire, especially in the zippy finale. Masur follows her like a shark on the scent of blood, providing accompaniments that are sharply characterized and rhythmically taut--simply stunning. (review by David Hurwitz)

Symphonies nos 1-4, Haydn Variations
(Kurt Sanderling, conductor)
A thrilling Brahms cycle played by Germany's greatest orchestra under the baton of a legendary conductor. Do not confuse this set with Kurt Sanderling's later, less successful Brahms cycle on Capriccio. This is the one to get; it's just one more proof of the fact that there's no relationship between quality of performance and price. Even if you already have a decent selection of Brahms symphonies, you can afford to add this terrific set to your collection. (review by David Hurwitz)

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