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Brahms: The Four Symphonies, Etc / Mackerras, Scottish Co


Release Date: 07/29/1997 
Label:  Telarc   Catalog #: 80450   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Sir Charles Mackerras
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 3 Hours 19 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Mackerras’ highly regarded Telarc Brahms cycle bills itself as being “in the style of the original Meiningen performances.” This claim is, of course, nonsense, if only because of the word “original.” The interpretations are based on a very interesting 1933 typescript by Walter Blume, a pupil of Meiningen conductor Fritz Steinbach, which allegedly comprises the conductor’s own notes on how to interpret the four symphonies plus the Haydn Variations. Steinbach succeeded Richard Strauss in Meiningen, where he remained from 1886-1902. Strauss had followed Hans von Bülow, so calling Steinbach’s Meiningen Brahms “original” makes no sense at all. The Brahms tradition there preceded him by at least two conductors, and could have been quite Read more different when it did.

Nevertheless, we can say that Steinbach’s notes, if accurately transcribed by Blume, represent an authentic Brahms tradition, and they are quite interesting. For one, they make it clear that Steinbach’s approach to tempo and accent was much freer than usual today. They also suggest that vibrato was already in general use. It is mentioned only twice in the typescript, in the description of the First Symphony’s introduction, and in connection with the slow movement of the Third Symphony. In both cases, Steinbach warns the orchestra not to use vibrato–specifically in order to create a special timbral effect–thereby implying that it was in pretty continuous or at least unobjectionable use otherwise. Interestingly, the note-writer for this edition of the symphonies misses that point entirely, still adhering to the usual period-instrument cant that vibrato was employed “only as an ornament” at the time in question.

The reason for bringing all of this, and these performances, up now is because Blume’s typescript, formerly extremely difficult to find (I got my copy through a German antique book-seller several years ago), has now been published in an edition edited by Michael Schwalb for Olms Verlag, as Brahms in der Meininger Tradition. If you know a bit of German, plus the usual musical terminology, the typescript itself is relatively easy to follow. Sometimes Mackerras sticks to it, and sometimes he doesn’t–which is a good thing, actually, because Mackerras was a great conductor in his own right and we don’t want or need a purely mechanical application of someone else’s rules.

However, you can glean a good example of the general approach from the coda of the Second Symphony’s finale, which is quite effective and, at the end of the day, not terribly controversial. The performances are noteworthy for their transparency, energy, and natural ensemble balances, with especially persuasive accounts of the Third and Fourth Symphonies. You also get an excellent Haydn Variations and a rousing Academic Festival Overture, plus the original version of the First Symphony’s slow movement.

The note-writer would also have us believe that Brahms preferred performances of his music with small forces. This is total nonsense. If you’re interested in a good musical education, avoid Robert Pascall and the University of Nottingham. Brahms loved larger ensembles (as scholar Styra Avins has pointed out), and as to what he preferred more generally, we may assume that he wanted the best possible quality whatever the absolute numbers in question. Nevertheless, these are fine interpretations of uncommon interest, and now, if you are curious, you can get the book on which they claim to be based and see to what extent Mackerras really does embody at least one authentic Brahms performance tradition.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1.
Symphony no 1 in C minor, Op. 68 by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Sir Charles Mackerras
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1855-1876; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/1997 
Venue:  Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland 
Notes: Charles Mackerras conducts both the original and final versions of
movement II. Brahms conducted this early version of the Andante
sostenuto in 1876 and early 1877, but later made revisions in the score and published this final version in late 1877. 
2.
Academic Festival Overture in C minor, Op. 80 by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Sir Charles Mackerras
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/1997 
Venue:  Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland 
3.
Symphony no 2 in D major, Op. 73 by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Sir Charles Mackerras
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1877; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/1997 
Venue:  Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland 
4.
Variations in B flat major on a theme by Haydn, Op. 56a "St. Anthony" by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Sir Charles Mackerras
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1873; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/1997 
Venue:  Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland 
5.
Symphony no 3 in F major, Op. 90 by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Sir Charles Mackerras
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1883; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/1997 
6.
Symphony no 4 in E minor, Op. 98 by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Sir Charles Mackerras
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1884-1885; Austria 
Date of Recording: 01/1997 

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