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Thread: Brahms: Symphony #4 in E minor, op. 98

  1. #16
    Senior Member Room2201974's Avatar
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    The 4th is the first symphony that I got into, studied, and fell in love with. I've heard it so many times that I burnt out on it long ago. But I think it's truly a monumental work. That lovely theme of the first movement built on thirds and sixths.......the 2nd movement that has no development section...the wonderful set of variations in the last movement. Good stuff there I think.

    The latter works of Brahms, as with the latter works of Beethoven, show a process of "distillation." Brahms on compositional steriods! He got "better" over time. I'm currently in love with Op 115, the Clarinet Quintet in B minor!
    "He who makes songs without feeling spoils both his words and his music. " ~ Guillaume de Machaut

    "It is insulting to address anyone in a language which they do not understand." ~ Benjamin Britten

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    The first movement is a marvel. The thematic material is rich and flexible, maybe inexhaustible. So many different facets are explored and new transformations and permutations are still coming in the coda, making it, IMO, one of the most dynamic opening movements Brahms wrote. I could, but won't, rave about the rest of the symphony too. Great orchestration. A wonderful, dark jewel of a work.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Aug-21-2018 at 14:57.

    'Ere I am J.H., the ghost in the machine.

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  5. #18
    Senior Member Haydn67's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SONNET CLV View Post
    I still have that Command Classics box set of the Brahms 4 Complete Symphonies featuring William Steinberg and the Pittsburgh Symphony. It's a treasure.

    Attachment 106951
    Quote Originally Posted by Eramire156 View Post
    I love that set Brahms Symphonies, I recently purchased this set, and it already one favorite Brahms cycles
    I agree with both of you. Steinberg's Brahms is very fine. I once had the pleasure of talking with him backstage following a concert he gave with the Pittsburgh Symphony at Florida State University. He was a gregarious man, with a marvelous sense of humor.

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    Senior Member Room2201974's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Haydn67 View Post
    I agree with both of you. Steinberg's Brahms is very fine. I once had the pleasure of talking with him backstage following a concert he gave with the Pittsburgh Symphony at Florida State University. He was a gregarious man, with a marvelous sense of humor.
    Did you study at FSU?
    "He who makes songs without feeling spoils both his words and his music. " ~ Guillaume de Machaut

    "It is insulting to address anyone in a language which they do not understand." ~ Benjamin Britten

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    Someone once said that there were three symphonies that end in catastrophe & despair: Mahler 6, Sibelius 4 and Brahms 4. Brahms 4 doesn't have one note that could be added to improve it, nor one taken away. I've played it only once but was in awe - as ever with Brahms - of the architecture. I've lived with Kleiber's recording for years too, and it would be hard to top.

    I'm going to buy a ticket to hear Barenboim & the Berlin SK play it later this year. So far, I struggle to recall a live performance which has ever truly grabbed me. I suspect it's not an easy work to bring off. I heard Solti/CSO do it thirty years ago, which was the most memorable. Since then, I heard live performances by Giulini (VPO), Previn (RPO), Hans Vonk (Sydney SO), Gergiev (VPO) which haven't ever quite caught fire somehow. Gergiev was only twelve years ago. There may have been other I don't have the programs from, but I certainly don't recall the performances.

    Brahms may not have been the most gifted, or natural of composers (Schubert, Mozart, Mendelssohn). But it's the craftsmanship, the professionalism (in the best sense), the way it works so well, that wins me over. The refusal to publish anything second rate. There's a lot to admire.
    cheers,
    Graeme

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  9. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by SONNET CLV View Post
    And I still have that Command Classics box set of the Brahms 4 Complete Symphonies featuring William Steinberg and the Pittsburgh Symphony. It's a treasure.

    Attachment 106951
    Steinberg/PittsSO Brahms set on Command - very fine set, for sure....TMK, these never made it to CD [??]

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  11. #22
    Senior Member Haydn67's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Room2201974 View Post
    Did you study at FSU?
    Yes, while majoring in government during a good portion of the 1960s. During that time, Hungarian composer Ernst Von Dohnanyi was Professor of Music there, as was Richard Burgin, former concertmaster of the Boston Symphony. Ellen Taafe (now Ellen Taafe Zwilich), who I saw perform while there, also graduated from the FSU School of Music. She later became the first female composer to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music.

  12. #23
    Senior Member Enthusiast's Avatar
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    I love all of the Brahms symphonies but 3 and 4 are my favourites. For 4 there are many recordings I would be extremely reluctant to live without -

    Abbado
    Harnoncourt
    Karajan
    Kempe (Munich PO - available in an unmissable bargain box with live accounts of Klemperer's Beethoven)
    Sanderling
    Svetlanov
    Walter

    And also the Toscanini recording made live in London (for example, from Pristine).

    There are other good ones (Klemperer, Kleiber, Szell ...) but with those above I would probably have the work covered for now.

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    Senior Member Pyotr's Avatar
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    The Philadelphia Orchestra plays Brahms symphonies often. They usually perform one or two, but a couple season's ago they played all four. It was great. There's nothing like sitting in the conductors circle listening to one of these masterpieces.
    As far as which one I like the best it's hard to say, but #4 is as good as any of them

  14. #25
    Senior Member Robert Pickett's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Heck148 View Post
    Steinberg/PittsSO Brahms set on Command - very fine set, for sure....TMK, these never made it to CD [??]
    There's a Brahms First in the Steinberg EMI Icon box set, but the other three Symphonies are absent.....

    I found a CD set on Amazon UK, on the MCA (?) Label, says Steinberg/Pittsburgh, but the sole review refers to Eschenbach! £105 if you are willing to take the risk!
    Last edited by Robert Pickett; Aug-22-2018 at 13:32.

  15. #26
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    I first heard the Brahms 4th via Eugen Jochum's EMI recording with the London Philharmonic. I still value that performance (& imprinted on it), but over the years have come to enjoy a number of other Brahms 4ths: from conductors C. Kleiber, Walter, Kertesz, Jochum Berlin, Sanderling Dresden (Eurodisc), Haitink RCO (Philips), and Masur. Yet, I've recently discovered a Brahms quote that has made me reconsider how I view Brahms symphonies, and how they are best conducted and performed:

    When conductor Pierre Monteux was a teenager he played in a string quartet called the Geloso Quartet, which performed a Brahms quartet privately for the composer in Vienna. Afterwards, Brahms remarked to Monteux,

    "It takes the French to play my music properly. The Germans all play it much too heavily." (Canarina, p. 24)

    Brahms comment is a significant clue about how he wanted his music to be played--i.e., in a more classical vein; in contrast to the heavy thickness and slowness of the late Romantic German conductors. Judging by the comment, it doesn't seem very likely that Brahms would have been overly keen on the conducting of Wilhelm Fürtwangler, Karl Böhm, Otto Klemperer, and Herbert von Karajan in his symphonies, who were all be prone to heavy, thick, slow "late Romantic" performances.

    While Monteux is thought of as a French specialist--having given the world premieres of important new works by Debussy, Ravel, and Stravinsky, etc. (a total of 19 significant premieres in Paris), it was the music of Brahms that meant the most to Monteux. He loved Brahms above all other composers. Yet, surprisingly, Monteux's Brahms conducting divided critics: some raved about his Brahms, such as William Mann, who said that Monteux was a "supremely authoritative" Brahms conductor, while others, such as Neville Cardus criticized Monteux's Brahms for not being in accordance with the heavy Germanic approach. Cardus wrote,

    "In Germanic music Monteux, naturally enough, missed harmonic weight and the right heavily lunged tempo. His rhythm, for example, was a little too pointed for, say, Brahms or Schumann." (Jonathan Swain, "Reputations-Pierre Monteux", Gramophone, January 1998, p. 35)

    Unfortunately, the record companies, such as the Decca company, took their cue from Cardus, as they only invited Monteux to record Brahms 2nd symphony over the course of his long career. Which shows how prevalent the Germanic understanding, or rather misunderstanding was--if we take our cue from Brahms himself--of Brahms symphonies during the late Romantic era. Granted, there were German conductors that took a more classical or Haydn-like approach to Brahms, such as Walter & Masur (as the Leipzig Gewandhaus tradition was more closely linked to the classical era of Beethoven and to Mendelssohn than to the late romantic era), but they weren't the norm.

    With that said, Monteux expressed a dislike for making studio recordings:

    "You may give an excellently played, genuinely felt performance of a movement, but because the engineer is not satisfied because there is some rustling at one point, so you do it again and this time something else goes wrong. By the time you get a "perfect" take of the recording the players are bored, the conductor is bored, and the performance is lifeless and boring. ... I detest all my own records. (The Times, March 1959.)

    Therefore it's probably best to turn to Monteux's live recordings of Brahms. I tend to most enjoy Monteux's live recordings myself, as the studio recordings are sometimes a bit staid & boring, as Monteux admitted. Fortunately, there are live Monteux performances of the Brahms 1st, 3rd, & 4th symphonies that have appeared on CD.

    Here's a live Monteux recording of the 4th that I expect Brahms lovers won't want to miss, especially in light of Brahms' comment to Monteux:




    Judging by his comment to the young Monteux, I think Brahms would have liked this performance enormously.
    Last edited by Josquin13; Aug-22-2018 at 15:42.

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  17. #27
    Senior Member Merl's Avatar
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    If you want a Brahms 4th thats not too heavy, has fantastic inner detail and superb recorded sound you should listen to Ticciati's account. It's very impressive (and reminiscent of Mackerras) .
    Last edited by Merl; Aug-22-2018 at 19:50.

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