Brahms: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4; Alto Rhapsody; Tragic Overture

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3; Symphony No. 4; Alto Rhapsody; Tragic Overture
PERFORMER: Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo soprano); Arnold Schoenberg Choir, Vienna PO/James Levine
CATALOGUE NO: 449 829-2
1997 is the centenary of the death of Brahms, whose symphonies have a close association with the Vienna Philharmonic (they premiered the Second and Third and the Tragic Overture under Richter). Brahms was 43 before he wrote a symphony, continuing where Beethoven and Schubert had left off, for neither Mendelssohn nor Schumann used it for their profoundest musical thoughts and Wagner had little interest in the form. The dramatic start to the First suits the operatic Levine and his timpanist makes the most of it. The VPO strings glow and the oboe and horn playing is superb, but Levine, when roused, can also hard-drive his players, as he does in the finale of an otherwise measured Second. The pacing of the Third has rhythmic energy and dynamic colour, whilst the Fourth contrasts the pervading serenity of the first half with the exhilaration of the Second (a brisk Passacaglia). The bittersweet Rhapsody is gloriously sung by von Otter, if lost on occasion among the lower strings and male voices. Levine may be no Böhm but he is a Brahmsian to be reckoned with. Christopher Fifield

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