> BRAHMS Symphonies 2,4 Mengelberg 8110158 [JP]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johannes BRAHMS (1833 1897)
Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73
Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98

Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam Willem Mengelberg
recorded 4/4/40 and 30/11/38, in the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, Holland. ADD
NAXOS Historical 8.110158 [77.38]



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A number of companies are presently competing with each other to release recordings by famous artists of yesteryear, and the Naxos Historical Series of recordings is no exception. Unlike many of the other series, these are all at budget price, and the transfers generally are of a very high standard.

One of the well known problems with recordings originally made by Telefunken was that the company used shellac Like many of its competitors, this material was used as the base material for the original records. It was resistant to wear, but gave a relatively high level of background noise. The original metal masters have often been severely damaged by poor storage conditions after the war. Where some restorers are able to go back to the original metal masters, these Telefunken recordings have to be re-mastered from the original shellac pressings, as the masters have been lost.

Ward Marston has been responsible for this release, and anyone who has heard the previously available Teldec pressings of these recordings (released on a pair of full priced CDs) will be absolutely astonished. Gone are the high levels of surface noise and distortion, and in their place is relatively clean sound, well balanced as was the original Telefunken source material. There is a noticeable but relatively low level of background hiss, now quite uniform, unlike the previous issues. I am not sure how Mr. Marston has achieved this transformation, but all due thanks to him for his efforts, and also to Naxos, for making these superb performances available to us at such a reasonable cost.

Willem Mengelberg was Music Director of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra from 1895 1945, and during this time ruled the orchestra with a will of iron. He developed a very free style of playing, using portamento and variations in tempo which to some listeners bordered on the perverse. These recordings are no exception, but the other quality which Mengelberg brought to the orchestra was that of flexibility in their playing to make even the most dramatic of tempo change sound completely natural. In addition, there was a corporate spirit to the playing, which few other ensembles could match indeed the orchestra was at a peak of playing at the time these recordings were made.

Both of the Brahms symphonies recorded here are exciting in the extreme, with a warmth to the playing which transcends the recording quality. The Telefunken engineers were brilliantly capable of catching the superb acoustic of the Dutch hall on the wing so to speak, and it is to be sincerely hoped that more of these recordings will be made available. According to the restorer, Telefunken used to optimise each side recorded by slightly changing the microphone placings, depending upon the music to be recorded. Ward Marston has applied slight changes in equalisation to try and minimise this effect; to my ears, he has succeeded brilliantly.

If I were to select a movement from this disc to display the qualities of playing, original recording quality and the effects of the restoration, the first movement of the fourth symphony is outstanding. It has an ebb and flow of the playing which to current day purists will probably seem completely out of character, but to me shows a completely different side to Brahms playing which is well worth preserving. Well done Naxos more please.

John Phillips


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