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My Brahms Symphony Cycles

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The Brahms Symphonies: Personal Impressions

Brahms symphonies are an odd set, insofar as I believe they are best approached individually rather than as a set. Unlike Beethoven's cycle, which shows an artistic progression from a Haydn-like model to what are arguably the first great Romantic sympohonies, the Brahms symphonies don't offer much that is novel per se. In fact, one could argue the symphonies of Brahms's late contemporaries Mahler and Bruckner provide a more rounded sense of unity, and they do reach the limits of excess that Brahms avoids.

Do not take this as a show of disrespect for these works, as they are notewrthy and (in some ways) epic in their own right. Just, as I said, they don't provide a holistic symnphonic umbrella.

My recordings

If you follow my Friday blog and podcast, you know we are in the process of a Brahms Symphony Cycle, using recordings from my vinyl collection. These areby four cnductors: Carlo-Maria Giulini, Leonard Bernstein, Istvan Kertesz and Eugen Jochum.

In addition, I thought I would bring up the three complete cycles I own.

Carlo Marian Giulini and the Philharmonia Orchestra (1960’s)
In addition to the symphonies, this set adds the Tragic Overture and the Haydn Variations. Many of these were re-issued in different re-masterings. The symphonies are well-played, but some may say that Giukini doesn’t take many risks, and does not approach these with German muscle.

Karajan/Berlin Philharmonic (1977-78)
O sacrilege - my least favourite set in the lot. Herbert von Karajan made many dearly beloved recordings of some or all of Brahms symphonies several times in his lifetime. Two complete sets are worth noting more than the others though. The reviews are mixed by critics and I must agree with that assessment - better than the digital set, not as good as the early Stereo set, these symphonies lie in an odd middle-ground. Not quite as powerful, sometimes too cute. However, no one can deny the Berlin Philharmonic's virtuasity and sound.

Haitink/London Symphony (2003)
The ones that are in my iPod - another brilliant project by Haitink for the LSO Live label is this 10-year old Brahms cycle (includes also the Second serenade, Double Concerto and Tragic Overture). Bernard Haitink has a knack for doing things right, and his Brtahms is clean and fresh. An excellent set.

On my YouTube channel, thanks greatkly to the Orange Soda King, is the fine Kettesz/Vienna Philharmonic cycle, the last recording project undertaken by the Hungarian conductor.

Among some of the other cycles I have heard and like are: Muti and the Philadelphia Orchestra, Toscanin and the NBC Symphony, Sir Adrian Boult and the London Philharmonic and Eugen Jochium and the Berlin Philharmonic.

Please add yours to this lst!

January 25 2013, "I Think You Will Love This Music Too" will feature a new podcast "Btahms Festival, Part 4" at its Pod-O-Matic Channel. Read more January 25 on the ITYWLTMT Blogspot blog.

Updated Jan-22-2013 at 11:31 by itywltmt

Classical Music , Recorded Music


  1. Bone's Avatar
    Try Sanderling and Dresden Staatskapelle, Walter and Columbia SO, and Szell with Cleveland for some added flavor. I also have an interesting set with Mackerras (spelling?) and Scottish Chamber Orchestra. I am unfamiliar with Haitink's Brahms - looking forward to picking this up.