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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
CD 1
Symphony No 1 in C Minor, Op. 68 (1876) [46:02]
CD 2
Symphony No 2 in D, Op. 73 (1877) [44:29];
Tragic Overture, Op. 81 (1881) [13:02]
CD 3
Symphony No 3 in F, Op. 90 (1876) [35:36];
Variations on a Theme by Haydn Op. 56a (1876) [17:16]
CD 4
Symphony No 4 in E minor Op. 98 (1885) [41:37];
Academic Festival Overture Op. 80 (1880) [9:58]
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Marek Janowski
rec. 1984-1986, Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool. DDD
SANCTUARY CLASSICS CD RSB 405 [46:02 + 57:31 + 52:52 + 51:35]



This is fundamentally a well-played and enjoyable mid-price set of the Brahms symphonies from the Liverpudlian orchestra, whom I often commend. However the Fourth goes well beyond that and is quite exceptional, well deserving of its many critical plaudits.

Other than that, this set may or may not be to the listenerís taste. It is somewhat faster paced and crisper than some of the lusher German accounts such those by Karajan and the Berlin Phil on Deutsche Grammophon or Sawallisch's commendable budget-priced edition with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra.

I have one minor but significant quibble. There is nothing wrong and indeed nothing unusual about a disc containing an overture and a symphony. However it is an annoying feature of this otherwise enjoyable set that the symphonies are followed by an overture on discs two and four. Whilst both works are good, it would work much better to hear them the other way round. It is not all that difficult to programme a CD player to track them in the listeners preferred order, but nevertheless this programming does detract mildly from the listening pleasure of the set.

These works are all well known and for the majority of listeners will need no introduction. The questions are whether this set would be preferable to other recordings; whether it is of sufficient merit for the serious Brahmsian to purchase it additionally? Would it be the recording of choice for someone new to these works?

My answers to these questions are firstly, no. There are other recordings which are of equal or greater merit and some of which are better value and/or cheaper. These recordings come from the mid-1980s and whilst clear will not have the benefit of the latest technical advances. The very fine performance of the Fourth Symphony might well merit its purchase as an additional recording (the Academic Festival Overture is also very good). It may not be the best or the ideal introduction or only recording of these excellent works to have, but it is good and worthwhile.

Julie Williams

see also Review by Christopher Howell


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