Brahms/Dvor‡k

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms/Dvorak
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Symphony No. 3 in F; Variations on the St Antony Chorale; Carnival Overture
PERFORMER: Cleveland Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy
CATALOGUE NO: 433 548-2 DDD
Statistics first. Ashkenazy, characteristically fleet of foot, reaches the finishing post a clear one or two minutes ahead of most of the opposition, with the exception of Karajan, who cuts the exposition repeat in the first movement. That is not to say Brahms should always be a race, but it is always a welcome sign when there is no unnecessary hanging about.

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It is evident from the opening bars that this is going to be a lively and original performance. The woodwind squeak noisily and the brass have a strident presence that undermines any ideas the strings might have about smothering the entire symphony in their warm embrace. The central two movements are more subdued, but where some conductors allow a sense of pathos to surface, Ashkenazy glides along with a blithe lyricism. The Allegretto third movement has a somewhat bucolic charm, particularly in the horn solo, reinforced by the distinct impression that someone in the orchestra is humming along after too good a lunch. But for the last movement we return to the urgent and dramatic sound-world of the first.

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Of the two fillers, the famous Variations on the St Antony Chorale receives a stimulating performance. At the expense of giving the variations a sense of unity, Ashkenazy allows each one a distinctive voice: majestic, profound, or in one or two cases quite ethereal. Christopher Lambton