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Johannes BRAHMS (1833 - 1897)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor Op. 68 (1876) [44í55"]
Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a (1873) [18í25"]
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Kurt Masur.
rec. Leipzig, Germany, 1977, presumably at the Gewandhaus (no details given) ADD
ELOQUENCE 476 2814 [63.07]

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As far as I am aware, this is the first issue of these performances on CD. Masurís Beethoven and Mendelssohn cycles have been available in CD format for many years, but it has taken until now for these versions to be made available to the collector. The most interesting feature of these Australian-produced discs (all four symphonies have been made available on three discs), is the quality of the recordings. On LP, I remember the performances being let down by poor transfers. What we have here are excellent sound quality plus interpretations which, whilst not in the absolute front rank, are excellent, plus the mellow Brahmsian sound of the Leipzig Gewandhaus all at the incredibly low price of £3.70 plus postage.

As you might expect from these 1970s recordings, first movement repeats are missing, but as most performances, even today, are like this, there is not much to be missed. What is notable from those 1977 sessions is the absolute rightness of the sound of the symphonies, and of other Brahms symphonic works.

Apparently, Universal allows each of its marketing managers in each of the geographical sectors, to choose repertoire for their releases on Eloquence. Cyrus Meher-Homjiís good artistic and commercial judgement is exemplary and the company should take note of his activities in Australia. Whilst in Europe, the same recordings are endlessly re-cycled on different labels, the Australian Eloquence catalogue features some outstanding classics which otherwise have never seen the light of day.

In addition, since the delivery service is outstanding - better than most UK mail order organisations - there is no reason to delay making up an order. I placed an order on Thursday, and the discs were delivered to my front door exactly one week later. Even if you allocate the postage costs over the discs, they still are no dearer than a domestic equivalents. The only word of caution is to limit the value of the discs you order; if the total value is somewhat over £20.00, H.M. Customs, on arrival in the UK will wipe out any possible savings by adding import duty. Beware.

Back to the present release: Masur in his earlier years was more sprightly than he is with the New York Philharmonic. The slight weariness displayed by the Teldec performances is missing with these low price alternatives. Just think ... you can have the whole cycle for the price of one of the full price alternatives. In addition the East German (as it was then) instrumental timbres are extremely attractive, especially the sound of the oboe, so important in this symphony.

Brahms had little difficulty in writing the Variations on a Theme of Haydn, and Masur and his band have similarly absolutely no trouble in making the most of Brahmsí inspiration. There are no surprises in tempo or balance, just a good solid German approach to the playing. Universal are to be congratulated for making this cycle of Brahmsí orchestral works available.

I recommend this disc unreservedly, both from performance and recording quality points of view. If you send for the Eloquence catalogue or visit the supplierís internet site, you will be absolutely delighted with the range. It is to be hoped that the UK parent might also see the light and make more of the absolute treasure trove. They still have so many long unavailable recordings clamouring for reissue.

I am pleased to plug this label and its imaginative director for making such repertoire available

John Phillips


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