Brahms: Symphony No. 3; Alto Rhapsody

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Philips
WORKS: Symphony No. 3; Alto Rhapsody
PERFORMER: Jard van Nes (contralto)Tanglewood Festival Chorus, Boston SO/Bernard Haitink
CATALOGUE NO: 442 120-2 DDD
Two efficient, serviceable Brahms Threes – well played and well recorded and both, I fear, a little routine. Haitink’s approach is the more expansive, more elegantly phrased yet also bringing out the work’s vein of rustic pastoral; Levine’s account is more fiery and dramatic, especially in the first movement, accentuating dynamic contrasts (sometimes over-theatrically); though the VPO’s playing is the less pointed and it’s Haitink who builds the finale’s tension and architecture more convincingly. Yet neither performance really generates sufficient electricity. The Philips recording, good though it is, feels a little close and one-dimensional in comparison with the more natural sound DG’s 4D Audio system provides for Levine.

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The Alto Rhapsody sharpens the contrasts in approach and clarifies grounds for preference. Haitink is again expansive, darkly elegiac – but dragging. Levine keeps the music flowing and plays up the drama, especially in a highly emotional account of the opening recitative. He also has the finer, more compelling soloist in Anne Sofie von Otter. Finally, he provides the Tragic Overture as well: atmospheric and finely sustained in the central slow development, brash and rushed in the outer sections. Out of these two discs the only item I foresee returning to is the Otter/Levine Alto Rhapsody (which alone of the five performances rates four stars). Calum MacDonald