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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98 (1884-85) [41:48]
Hungarian Dances Nos. 2 and 4-9, WoO1 (1868) (orch. Peter Breiner) [22:51]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Marin Alsop
rec. 21-22 March 2005, Blackheath Concert Hall, London, UK (Symphony); 22-23 April 2006, The Colosseum Town Hall, Watford, UK (Dances). DDD
NAXOS 8.570233 [64:39]

This recording of the Fourth completes Marin Alsopís cycle of the Brahms symphonies for Naxos. Based on the quality of the other recordings, it was much anticipated and it does not disappoint. Alsopís interpretation is mainstream, but individual enough to make it a very worthwhile purchase. Her overall timing is in the normal range. Carlos Kleiberís celebrated account with the Vienna Philharmonic (DG) clocks in at 39:46, while DohnŠnyi with the Cleveland Orchestra (Warner) at 41:31 nearly matches Alsop. Her first movement is slightly faster than the norm and the second movement is somewhat slower. She brings out both the dramatic and autumnal aspects of the symphony very well, and the orchestra plays its heart out for her. The recorded sound is also very good with the sound of the strings well cushioned, even sumptuous. One of the highlights for me is the reprise of the second subject near the end of the Andante moderato (second movement) where the cellos are meltingly beautiful. On the other hand, the staccato triplets beginning in measure 36 [3:49-4:05 on the disc] are rather too deliberate and need more energy. The third movement scherzo is very light on its feet and all the better for it. Alsop brings out the drama well in the passacaglia finale, if without quite the urgency of Kleiber who is nigh unbeatable here. Overall, though, anyone collecting Alsopís series of Brahms symphonies should be happy with this stunning performance. Along with DohnŠnyiís recently reissued set of symphonies on Warner, hers is a top budget choice. 

To sweeten the pudding, the disc concludes with seven Hungarian Dances, which Naxos commissioned Peter Breiner to orchestrate. Brahms himself, it must be remembered, arranged only dances 1, 3, and 10 for orchestra. DvořŠk orchestrated some of the later dances (Nos. 17-21), while the earlier ones received orchestral treatment from various hands. Here Breiner has come up with fresh orchestrations that demonstrate an imaginative use of percussion, brass, and winds as well as additional figures in the accompaniment in No. 4. His employment of piccolo in several of the dances recalls a similar instance by Brahms in the finale of his Serenade No. 2. Alsop and the London Philharmonic play these dances with great relish and end the disc in fine style. 

This last installment in Alsopís Brahms series thus receives a firm recommendation.

Leslie Wright

see also Review by Dominy Clements



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