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Brahms: Symphonies No 1-4, Haydn Variations, Overtures / Manze, Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra

Brahms / Helsingborg Sym Orch / Manze
Release Date: 03/27/2012 
Label:  Cpo   Catalog #: 777720   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Andrew Manze
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Multi 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Something different to add to your Brahms collection.

We live in post-h.i.p times. That's post historically informed practice to you and me, the term Andrew Manze uses to describe his Brahms interpretations. He's hardly alone in that approach: Norrington, Harnoncourt, Mackerras and Gardiner have all performed Brahms with modern orchestras but using ideas from the period performance world. All seem to have moved on further from h.i.p. dogmas than Manze, whose loyalty to the letter of the score and unwillingness to apply rubato occasionally make him seem positively reactionary. Evidently it's post-h.i.p. to be square.
 
Nevertheless, these recordings have much to commend them, and Manze achieves his
Read more goal, whether h.i.p. or post-h.i.p., of breathing new life into works stifled by their own performance traditions. Manze discusses his approach at length in his liner-note. He comes over as erudite but makes no excuses for his occasional idiosyncrasies. Other scholars and conductors have been through the source materials before, but Manze has found new insights by studying the composer's own piano duet arrangements, which have many phrasing marks that didn't make it into the orchestral scores. Manze also traces the gradual changes in Brahms interpretation through the 20 th century. His aim is to extrapolate back to Brahms' own time in the hope of capturing something of the original feel of the works. These days everybody knows that's a fool's errand, but the musical insights that result make for satisfying listening, whatever the historical veracity of the approach.
 
In terms of tempos, Manze contends that the allegros have become slower and the adagios faster over the years. There has also been, he suggests, a huge increase in the amount of rubato applied. Since Brahms himself wrote not to slow up unless the score says so, Manze is surely justified in his more austere approach.
 
The effect is to bring out the Classical character in this music. You'll often hear echoes of Beethoven and even Mozart that don't come through in more liberal interpretations. In the first movement of the First Symphony, for example, the music is fast and steady, creating a sense of inexorable, tragic and even fatalistic momentum. In the first movement of the Second, the trombone chorales sound for all the world like the graveyard scene of Don Giovanni.
 
Critical reaction so far has been surprisingly uniform in its praise. I'd anticipate a little more disagreement among listeners as these recordings become better known, as they surely will be. Comparison with Harnoncourt or Gardiner reveals a slightly modular feel to Manze's structuring. When you hear Karajan's Brahms, it always flows, with the phrases seamlessly weaving together. That's an approach that most in the post-h.i.p. world have maintained, but it requires more rubato in the transitions than Manze will permit himself. The result is a greater focus on the moment.
 
Fortunately then, the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra ensures that every moment in these recordings is worth focusing on. The balance is excellent, a result perhaps of Manze going for a moderately sized string section. Vibrato in the strings is present but minimal, while the woodwind soloists are permitted a little more wobble. The constrained tones of the horns and trombones contribute most to the 19 th century atmosphere of the orchestral sound. The SACD sound is excellent, and the recording really benefits from the warm but clear acoustic of the Helsingborg Concert Hall.
 
Something different, then, to add to your Brahms collection. Manze pursues his aesthetic ideology quite doggedly here, but never at the expense of the results. He's too much of a professional to let his scholarship ever stand in the way of his intuitive musicianship, which must surely have played just as big a role in the formation of these interpretations. When you go back to your Karajan, or your Bernstein, or even your Carlos Kleiber, after hearing this, nothing will seem quite as inevitable or beyond dispute. Who knows, you might end up liking those earlier interpretations all the better for hearing them stand up to a thorough challenging.
 
-- Gavin Dixon, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1.
Symphony no 1 in C minor, Op. 68 by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Andrew Manze
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1855-1876; Austria 
2.
Symphony no 2 in D major, Op. 73 by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Andrew Manze
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1877; Austria 
3.
Symphony no 3 in F major, Op. 90 by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Andrew Manze
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1883; Austria 
4.
Symphony no 4 in E minor, Op. 98 by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Andrew Manze
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1884-1885; Austria 
5.
Variations in B flat major on a theme by Haydn, Op. 56a "St. Anthony" by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Andrew Manze
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1873; Austria 
6.
Tragic Overture, Op. 81 by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Andrew Manze
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880; Austria 
7.
Academic Festival Overture in C minor, Op. 80 by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Andrew Manze
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1880; Austria 

Sound Samples

Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68: I. Un poco sostenuto - Allegro
Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68: II. Andante sostenuto
Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68: III. Un poco allegretto e grazioso
Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68: IV. Adagio - Piu andante - Allegro non troppo ma con brio
Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a, "St. Anthony Variations": Theme: Chorale St. Antoni: Andante
Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a, "St. Anthony Variations": Variation 1: Andante con moto
Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a, "St. Anthony Variations": Variation 2: Vivace
Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a, "St. Anthony Variations": Variation 3: Con moto
Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a, "St. Anthony Variations": Variation 4: Andante
Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a, "St. Anthony Variations": Variation 5: Poco presto
Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a, "St. Anthony Variations": Variation 6: Vivace
Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a, "St. Anthony Variations": Variation 7: Grazioso
Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a, "St. Anthony Variations": Variation 8: Poco presto
Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a, "St. Anthony Variations": Finale: Andante
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73: I. Allegro non troppo
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73: II. Adagio non troppo - L'istesso tempo, ma grazioso
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73: III. Allegretto grazioso (quasi andantino) - Presto ma non assai
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73: IV. Allegro con spirito
Tragic Overture, Op. 81
Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80

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