I well remember eagerly awaiting each succeeding release
of these super-budget Classics for Pleasure Brahms recordings, so affectionately
performed by the Hallé under James Loughran, when they first
appeared on LP in the mid-1970s. They were very enthusiastically reviewed
then, and they make a very welcome reappearance in this generously filled
4 CD set. They were digitally remastered in 1992 (and the Hungarian
Dances and Violin Concerto in 2002) so that they now sound every
bit as good as any present day release.
The four symphonies were especially well praised. Listening
to them again now with more experienced ears they still impress greatly.
In Loughran’s hands, the First Symphony in C minor is gorgeously lyrical
with an attractive freshness. It has a lightness of touch and grace
without heavy-handedness; but with no sacrifice of dramatic power either.
The finale unfolds magnificently with a terrific climax. The lighter
spring-like Second Symphony is immaculately and enthusiastically played
with warmth and tenderness. The Third Symphony on the other hand is
unusually deliberate with the Andante sombrely reflective and the melody
of the Poco allegretto third movement (that became the tune for a ‘pop’
song) rather more rueful than usual while the finale is contrastingly
biting and defiant. The more austere Symphony No. 4 is nicely poised
and driven forward with an exciting scherzo third movement, and an energetic
The Violin Concerto with soloist Maurice Hasson, faces
much competition and though this cannot be compared with so many top-drawer
performances, it is warmly romantic and vital enough with a beautifully
phrased Adagio central movement and a vivacious gypsy-rhythm finale.
Full marks to Loughran’s St Anthony Variations
beautifully realised especially the lovely Variation VII’s evocation
of a Baroque siciliana and Variation VIII’s hunting-horn motif. The
Hallé’s Tragic Overture is nicely paced, heroic and dramatic
with a most tender central melody; and the ceremonial Academic Festival
Overture has great pomp and nostalgic charm. Bernadette Greevy and
the Hallé Choir join to give a most persuasive and moving account
of Brahms’ lovely life-affirming Alto Rhapsody (worth the price
of the album alone!). The Hungarian Dances are characterful and
[Loughran and the Hallé also recorded the two
Brahms piano concertos. These were released by ASV.]
Excellent performances, critically acclaimed in their
day and now gathered together in an irresistible super-bargain 4 CD
box set. Why pay more?