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Slow and Indulgent

Marin Alsop conducts Brahms,
reviewed by

Naxos    8.570233

Brahms: Symphony No 4; Hungarian Dances. London Philharmonic Orchestra / Marin Alsop. © 2007 Naxos Rights International Ltd

Much as I share in the appreciation of the strong and colourful musical personality of Marin Alsop, it is largely her American and contemporary repertoire that has presented the greatest impact. With 19th century Europe I do not find her so convincing. She seems intent on pursuing the dangerous route of too many conductors since the craft was invented -- that of 'making the music their own'. This need to interpret, trying to find a new take on the old story, rather than search out the underlying intentions of the composer, makes so many conductors seem needlessly arrogant. This is sad, especially so with such a fine musician as Alsop, but in this performance of Brahms' 4th Symphony, recorded in March 2005, it seems the unavoidable conclusion is that she doesn't get it. Brahms needs movement, momentum. His symphonic cohesion and power is remarkable. Take away the drive and the hair is cut from Samson.

The best movement in this performance is the third, allegro giocoso. The worst is the glorious andante moderato [listen -- track 2, 8:30-9:21] (what is it about Americans that tempt them to turn fresh-air romanticism into turgid schmaltz?). Brahms, I am sure, never meant moderato to be as slow and heavily indulgent as this [listen -- track 2, 9:41-11:03].

Alsop's mannerisms in the first movement interrupt the flow from early in the proceedings [listen -- track 1, 0:48-1:40] and the lack of clear definition in the opening of the fourth movement fails to identify boldly the sequence of harmonies that form the basis of the whole structure [listen -- track 4, 0:00-1:14]. I doubt that Brahms would have been much impressed, though there were only three women musicians that he took seriously, and they didn't even include Ethel Smyth!

The Hungarian Dances that complete this disc do not really raise the tone much. Naxos commissioned the Canadian-Slovak arranger, composer, conductor, pianist Peter Breiner (born 1957) to provide new orchestrations of this group of seven -- those of the ten that Brahms arranged for piano solo from his four-hand originals and which he did not orchestrate himself. They feel too tepid and lightweight for Brahms [listen -- track 9, 0:00-0:34], a little too Austrian, though they are very competently worked through -- and so they should be, for the list of Breiner's innumerable arrangements of everything from Presley and the Beatles to Debussy, Bizet and every known national anthem gives him an authority to be respected.

Copyright © 24 November 2007 Patric Standford, Wakefield UK


Brahms: Symphony No 4; Hungarian Dances

8.570233 DDD Stereo NEW RELEASE 64'39" 2007 Naxos Rights International Ltd

London Philharmonic Orchestra; Marin Alsop, conductor

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897): Symphony No 4 in E minor Op 98 (Allegro non troppo; Andante moderato; Allegro giocoso - poco meno presto; Allegro energico e passionato - più allegro); Hungarian Dances Nos 2 and 4-9 WoO1 (arranged by Peter Breiner)




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Record Box is Music & Vision's regular series of shorter CD reviews