Symphony no. 3 in F ; Violin Concerto ; Hungarian Dances nos. 1 and 5
Anne-Sophie Mutter, BPO, Karajan.
Sonata for violin and piano in G Zukerman, Barenboim
3 Intermezzi Op 117; Six Pieces for piano, Op 118. Wilhelm
Alto Rhapsody Christa Ludwig, Vienna P0 and Choir, Bohm
Recordings date from 1960 to 1989.
DG Panorama 469 124-2.
2 CDs at a bargain price.
What a genius Brahms was!
In addition, he was a thoroughly likeable man. Although in love with Robert
Schumann's wife he never acted with impropriety . Dvorak may not have been
the great success he was... had it not been for Brahms. He was a hearty man
enjoying his beer with his students hence the Academic Festival Overture.
He was said to be anti-Semitic but , if that is true, it was a common disease
in central Europe at the time. This massive bearded giant of a man who smoked
powerful cigars and seemed to live on black coffee wrote music that will
endure for ever.., from the formidable early piano sonatas and the truly
spectacular first Piano Concerto to the intimacy of his under-rated songs
and chamber works to the final years of mellow masterpieces. There is no
clarinet work like the Clarinet Quintet in B minor if this is the work of
a crusty old bachelor we can forgive him his crustiness..
The symphonies are all magnificent and different one from the other and the
claim that his first symphony was really Beethoven's Tenth is unfair. But
so are many statements. Walton hated the claim that he was Elgar's successor.
In the case of Brahms Symphony no. 1 we have an amazing and original achievement
.. from the heartbeats of the opening six/eight passage to the splendour
of the closing choral like movement. Much as I adore Beethoven, Brahms First
is not Beethoven's Tenth.
Brahms Second Symphony sometimes referred to as his Pastorale by those who
want to continue the unfair comparison with Beethoven could be called The
Seasons. I used to find the leisurely first three movements could be tedious
and the finale was its only redeeming feature. But that was when I was sixteen.
Sir Adrian Boult, not renowned for his Brahms but, nonetheless amazingly
good at it, gave a performance that converted me to this symphony and the
exuberance of the finale bowled us all over.
My lack of admiration for Karajan is known but I set aside all my feelings
and sat down with the score of the Third Symphony and played the disc. Apart
from the technical worry of the buzzy bass which was there on all the machines
I used this performance is disappointing. The ponderous bass makes it too
heavy and the rising horn figure in the opening theme is lost under a density
of strings. There is no feeling in the piece. Goodness, it is a romantic
symphony. This symphony also has a very definite character. The quick movements
end quietly and this lends to the view that the work is a thoughtful treatise
not the overweight Teutonic piece that Karajan makes it. It need so much
more than Karajan can give. It needs more space, more love and less conductor
exhibitionism. There is a coldness and clinical feel about Karajan. Fritz
Reiner excels in this glorious piece, Bernstein is very good but Istvan Kertesz
was best. He understands the music and his Brahms is exemplary.
There are so many other problems with the Karajan. The counterpoint five
minutes into the finale is lost in very flabby conducting.This is a poor
The Violin Concerto of Brahms is an all-time great. The big orchestral
introduction lacks polish and refinement under Karajan and it does not hang
together, another example of inadequate conducting skills. By comparison,
listen to Isaac Stern and Eugene Ormandy and you will hear the difference.
Mutter is a marvellous player and when she enters things improve.., as if
Karajan was not getting his own way any more. (If I am allowed an aside,
her performance of the -Sibelius with Andre Previn is a must. Commerical
I wonder how Ms Mutter would have fared with a better conductor in the Brahms.
She has the class and pedigree but it is a pity about the conductor. When
the soloist is silent you can hear that the style and control is so completely
different. The orchestral tuttis are crude and raw.
The slow movement is very difficult to bring off as to orchestral balance
and I once saw Karajan double the woodwind solos in a performance of this
work. That should never be done. Mutter's playing is lovely but she has no
support in that same essential vein. Karajan is an insensitive conductor.
I would have preferred more attack in the finale. Again the accents in the
orchestra are turned by Karajan into caricature, as does Simon Rattle. This
caricature of sudden accents and unauthorised surges of sound makes the music
sound banal and cheap. It is a pity for this movement is one of great joy
and playfulness. The performance needed to go up a gear. The sound is a bit
rough too and, at other times, rougher still.
The Hungarian Dances do not sparkle and Number 5 is simply awful.
Its sound decidedly vulgar and crude. This is not gypsy music but a drunken
session in a brewery. Ghastly!
Karajan was a very limited conductor. Search in vain, for example, to see
if he ever performed any really modern difficult works.
The Violin Sonata no. I is a super piece.. heartfelt, melodious, mellow but
spoiled in this recording by Barenboim's dominance. The simply perfect theme
of the opening movement is given a glowing autumnal sunlight by Zukerman
but Barenboim has not the same sensitivity. Pity. Barenboim is in control
in a very arrogant way making it an unequal partnership. He spoils a glorious
sonata. He makes the slow movement strident at times and adopts his infuriating
clumping piano style.
The Three Intermezzi Op 117 are charming pieces. The first suggests a hymn
tune and the second is an example of introspection, something very personal
and compelling. The Piano Pieces Op 118 may be too personal for some but
these performances show Kempff as a very fine pianist in contrast to Barenboim.
Karl Bohm also shows us how vastly superior a conductor he was to Karajan...
and I mean vastly. His rendering of the Alto Rhapsody is very fine. The praise
meted out to Kathleen Ferrier's performance under Clemens Krauss was over
the top. She had a lovely voice but, musically, little else. Ludwig puts
her in the darkest shade.
I remember my first hearing of this masterpiece in the 1960s with the superlative
Sybil Michelow, a real contralto. The performance that day stills haunts
me with a glowing affection.
Ludwig's voice has a slight echo in this recording as if she is in a vast
building but her voice and understanding of this work is evident. It is a
pity that the recording lets the performance down.
Everyone loves the final section with the male chorus. Ludwig and Bohm are
truly magnificent... slightly on the slow side but the performance is heart
rending and profoundly moving. It is one of the most sublime passages of
music known to man. I am not ashamed to say that it always brings tears to
my old eyes!
But Brigitte Faessbender is even better. Her performance is so different
.... almost operatic ... certainly legendary
I will not award stars for recordings and performances. The text makes that