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JOHANNES BRAHMS conducted by Max Fiedler
Academic Festival Overture 9.45
Symphony No. 2 38.36
Symphony No. 4 41.14
Berlin PO/Max Fiedler
(all from Polydor electric process 78s, rec 1929, 1931, ADD)

This is Max Fiedler not Arthur Fiedler whose name you may know as the whilom conductor of the Boston Pops. Max (1859-1939) was much associated with Hamburg, Brahms' birthplace. He knew Brahms (1833-1897) who also attended Fiedler's performances of the Brahms symphonies. I have no information on whether Brahms endorsed Fiedler's interpretations or bearing in mind that these were recorded 33 years after Brahms death whether Fiedler's interpretations changed over the years. It does however make the recordings more of a 'dokumente' because they are directed by a conductor who was a contemporary and close contact with Brahms. Both Weingartner and Monteux had some contact with Brahms and both left recordings: Monteux (Symphonies 2 twice and 3) and Weingartner (symphonies 1 and 3).

The Overture is brisk and business-like with some passion worked up in the more strenuous moments. The second symphony while dating from 1931 is noisier. The noise is the background hiss of the 78. Other noises (click and pops seem to have been adroitly banished). An elegance and grace pervades Fiedler's reading of the sunny second symphony. Fiedler plays nothing routinely. Every phrase seems pointed and moulded. The gaunt scarifying brass at 6.00 in the first movement are a case in point suggesting a much darker world than we usually associate with this work. The allegretto grazioso is fleet-footed - almost Mendelssohnian and the second movement is serenity itself suggesting an affinity Elgar's Nimrod. A vaulting majesty characterises Fiedler's Brahms 4 and is well worth experiencing. The breadth of the brass figure at the start of the second movement takes some getting used to but the headlong exultation of Allegro giocoso banishes doubts. The gaunt and tortured atmosphere of the finale is abruptly and mysteriously conveyed linking to the Tragic Overture and the dark brass in the first movement of the second symphony. Fielder does not lack for dramatic motivation.

This is not quite the complete Brahms Fiedler. Fiedler also conducted the second piano concerto in which Elly Ney (the Fuhrer's pianist!) was soloist. This is available on Pearl mono GEMM CD 9170. The second symphony has appeared before on a DG 'Early Years' LP set in 1974.

These historic recordings will be highly prized by Brahms and Fiedler enthusiasts. You are unlikely to wish these for you first choice which for me would include Wand or Walter with a marked preference for Walter.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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