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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No. 1 (1859)

Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Introduction and Allegro Appassionato (1849)
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

Capriccio Brillant (1825)
Rudolf Serkin (piano)
Philadelphia/Ormandy (Schumann/Mendelssohn); Cleveland/Szell (Brahms)
Rec Severance Hall, Cleveland 19-20 Apr 1968 (Brahms); Town Hall, Philadelphia 17 Mar 1964 (Schumann), 4 Apr 1967 (Mendelssohn)
SONY ESSENTIAL CLASSICS SBK48166 [74.45]


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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No. 2 (1881)

Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)

Burleske (1886)
Rudolf Serkin (piano)
Philadelphia/Ormandy (Strauss); Cleveland/Szell (Brahms)
Rec Severance Hall, Cleveland 21-22 Jan 1966 (Brahms); Town Hall, Philadelphia 3 Feb 1966 (Strauss)
SONY ESSENTIAL CLASSICS SBK53262 [67.29]

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This version of Brahms 2 disc has been around for at least a decade and music-lovers (the fortunate ones of longer standing) will know of it from many previous versions on LP, cassette and even CD. This has been something of a nostalgic journey for me. I bought a bargain box CBS LP set of the Serkin Brahms concertos back in 1971. Their attractions have not dwindled in the intervening years and the Brahms 2 is quite simply terrific.

Serkin is ursine and magisterial in his approach. However he has a feline agility in the quicker music that surprises in one who so naturally expresses the epic. This dichotomy is best displayed in the Second Concerto which recording must assuredly be counted among the greats. This is an unconditional must-have for those who can live with the original CBS sound. OK so it is a mite grainy and just slightly unfocused. Szell's Clevelanders have plenty of bite and a gravelly determination that is deeply impressive. The First is good but it is a shade less apt to Serkin's and Szell's temperaments. Gruff Teutonicism and a hint of aural congestion are an unfavourable companion to a work that is already defiant and taciturn.

Throughout the Cleveland strings are searching though not as lustrous as they could be. The layers of texture are merged more closely in a sound signature that is peculiarly American and for which the CBS engineers presumably strove. The weighty string sound is homogeneous and edge-of-seat alert with probing emotionalism.

The Strauss Burleske is a felicitous apt companion to the Brahms Second and follows on - very much in keeping with the joyous spirit of the Brahms finale. The Schumann, still quite a rare quantity in both concert hall and on disc, is given a highly romantic and beguiling spin. In the Mendelssohn I am afraid that the würst overtakes the feathery faery-flight I expect from this work. The Mendelssohn is much better rendered by Joseph Kalichstein on an old RCA LP. He shows that the spirit of fantasy is a sine qua non in this work.

The Brahms pair have long been welcome fixtures in the catalogue though by no means as stable a presence in Schwann and Gramophone as the much feted but comparatively 'flat' Gilels/Jochum DG double.

I strongly commend the Brahms 2 provided you do not demand the last micron of subtle and analytical sound.

Rob Barnett


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