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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Just as a bit of fun, I thought I'd put together this little listening project to take up half an hour of this rather dull self-isolation. Instead of multiple versions of the same work in a comparison 'stylee' here is a complete set of Brahms' Hungarian Dances for you to listen to and comment on as you wish. Each conductor / orchestra has 3 dances each and the 3 dances run concurrently (1-3, 4-6, 7-9, 10-12, 13-15, 16-18 & 19-21).

So have a listen, make any comments about the recordings that you wish but don't mention the artists involved if you do recognise them. It's not a quiz, it's not intended to catch anyone out and you get to listen to a compilation of several very good conductors and orchestras. By all means say which triplets of dances particularly caught your ear, etc. Have a listen if you have a bit of time.

All files are 320k mp3.

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/d695pxwd98mo0ab/AADxzF-PwaHGnPXkRROgZ6WKa?dl=0
 

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Thanks for this - very entertaining. I have two versions of the Hungarian Dances on CD but I don't think any of these are those.

I don't know what I'm doing here, but this is just what occurred to me. The first trio wasn't bad but was a little too fast and lacking in melodic emphasis to me. The second set got the melody and tempo a bit better for me; quite Romantic in places though a little thin in others. 7-9 and 10-12 hit it about right for me; I think the latter gets more of the folk aspects, too. The next set sounds thin and hesitant to me, though - especially #14; I expect more sweep and flow with that one. Rich sound in the next-to-last set; I think I like it. Sounds very confident, too - not rushed or lazy, though maybe lacking something to completely light it up. The last trio sounded a little older somehow but along the lines of the second set generally.

So, all good, though 1-3 and 13-15 probably weren't my favorites and 10-12 and either 7-9 or 16-18 probably were. I may give them all another listen soon. I look forward to finding the identity of them all.

Dvorak's Slavonic Dances next? :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 · (Edited)
Thanks for this - very entertaining. I have two versions of the Hungarian Dances on CD but I don't think any of these are those.

I don't know what I'm doing here, but this is just what occurred to me. The first trio wasn't bad but was a little too fast and lacking in melodic emphasis to me. The second set got the melody and tempo a bit better for me; quite Romantic in places though a little thin in others. 7-9 and 10-12 hit it about right for me; I think the latter gets more of the folk aspects, too. The next set sounds thin and hesitant to me, though - especially #14; I expect more sweep and flow with that one. Rich sound in the next-to-last set; I think I like it. Sounds very confident, too - not rushed or lazy, though maybe lacking something to completely light it up. The last trio sounded a little older somehow but along the lines of the second set generally.

So, all good, though 1-3 and 13-15 probably weren't my favorites and 10-12 and either 7-9 or 16-18 probably were. I may give them all another listen soon. I look forward to finding the identity of them all.

Dvorak's Slavonic Dances next? :)
Yep, that's the one I was going to do next if this was popular. Incidentally, all of these triplets of performances have been given very good reviews at some time in their history. One of these is a little different from the others.
 

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Group 1 (1-3) - Aggressive, extrovert stuff (even for the lighter #3). Love the drive for the awesome excitement. Absolutely no sentimentality.

Group 2 (4-6) - Pulling the tempo for contrast and effects, mostly in 4 & 5. If one likes it, it's called expressive/idiomatic; if one doesn't, it's called moaning/pretentious. My feeling swinged between these two extremes while listening to this group, so I suppose the way it is played is effective enough even though I don't usually like this style.

Group 3 (7-9) - This group sounds like polished Straussian polkas. The edge from the previous 2 groups is missing.

Group 4 (10-12) - Adequately exciting and folksy. The strings in 11 are really beautiful.

Group 5 (13-15) - Oh boy, 14 is really slow, and sentimental. Yuk. I don't remember 13 very well after listening to this group. That tells something. 15 is polished and wears too much make-up, in my opinion. I’m afraid I don't enjoy this group at all.

Group 6 (16-18) - Wow the rich acoustics caught my attention from the first note go! (Unless it's just post-processing! :lol:) Reminds me of the aggressively engineered sound of the 2L label. The performance has a strong chamber feel to it. Not what I expected, but I like this group.

Group 7 (19-21) - Very fluent. No fooling around. Everything is well-judged. Perhaps not as characterful as groups 1, 2 & 6, but I appreciate the honesty here. It's unfortunate that the sound is dated and squeaky.

I like the performances of groups 1, 2, 6 & 7 the most. Followed by groups 3 & 4. Don’t like group 5 at all.

This exercise is interesting. Easy to go through as well. Well done, Merl!
 

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Well I had no idea that there could be such a variety of approaches to this music! I'm not sure I will be searching any of these out but all had merits.

1-3: 1 & 2 are on steroids - but they make effective concert pieces played this way ... just so long as you are not getting too many of them. 3 sounds like a duck dancing - provides some variety but not in a welcome way.
4-6: 4 is too rich and lugubrious for me - more Hollywood than Hungary. I enjoyed 5 but the messing around with speeds (it is worse in 6) seemed unnecessary and unwelcome.
7-9: OK but rather bland. More finesse would have been nice.
10-12: Nicely played and musical but where is the fun?
13-15: I actually enjoyed 13 and 15 - this is a band that seemed very at home in this music - but 14 was horrible!
16-18: This one is interesting. The band sounds like an expanded chamber group with an overly rich recording - the sort of thing you sometimes got from the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and/or Iona Brown - and the music sounded more Tchaikovsky than Brahms. But these did represent for me an interesting take on this music.
19-21: OK and had the idiom right but not always the most lively. I think I recognise this one.

Edit - I feel that maybe I should stop doing these blind things. I am not sure but it seems to me that listening while trying to come to an opinion (or even a critical opinion) is quite different from listening for pleasure? Perhaps it's just me!
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 · (Edited)
Well I had no idea that there could be such a variety of approaches to this music! I'm not sure I will be searching any of these out but all had merits.

1-3: 1 & 2 are on steroids - but they make effective concert pieces played this way ... just so long as you are not getting too many of them. 3 sounds like a duck dancing - provides some variety but not in a welcome way.
4-6: 4 is too rich and lugubrious for me - more Hollywood than Hungary. I enjoyed 5 but the messing around with speeds (it is worse in 6) seemed unnecessary and unwelcome.
7-9: OK but rather bland. More finesse would have been nice.
10-12: Nicely played and musical but where is the fun?
13-15: I actually enjoyed 13 and 15 - this is a band that seemed very at home in this music - but 14 was horrible!
16-18: This one is interesting. The band sounds like an expanded chamber group with an overly rich recording - the sort of thing you sometimes got from the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and/or Iona Brown - and the music sounded more Tchaikovsky than Brahms. But these did represent for me an interesting take on this music.
19-21: OK and had the idiom right but not always the most lively. I think I recognise this one.

Edit - I feel that maybe I should stop doing these blind things. I am not sure but it seems to me that listening while trying to come to an opinion (or even a critical opinion) is quite different from listening for pleasure? Perhaps it's just me!
Not at all, Enthusiast. Your comments are very welcome and very well observed (especially about recordings 10-12 & 16-18). One of these sets of recordings is a personal fave of mine but it's polarising opinion at the moment (I won't say any more at the moment). I love the comment about a "duck dancing". Hahhahaha!
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 · (Edited)
OK.... Here's the performers for the Brahms Hungarian Dances seeing as there's no other takers. Remember that these were just a brief snapshot of the big picture.

1-3: Dorati / LSO.
4-6: Bogar / Budapest SO
7-9: Alsop / LPO
10-12: Abbado / VPO
13-15: Fischer / Budapest FO
16-18: Janos Rolla / Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra
19-21: Ormandy / Philadelphia
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 · (Edited)
Some personal observations:

1-3 Dorati. This one's been around since the 60s and whilst it's lively and exciting as a set, the sound is showing its age and the strings sound wiry and thin. Dorati drives the LSO hard and occasionally makes them sound like an oompah band (so I totally get the "duck dancing" comment, Enthusiast). This is not one of my fave sets
4-6 Bogar. This one is a desert island disc for me and one of the best in the Naxos catalogue. Normally conductors pulling the tempi is a no-no for me but these are folk dances and it sounds right here. This one got a Penguin rosette on release and many excellent reviews and whilst it's not for everyone I love it's rustic Hungarian charm. Listen to the whole set and you'll hear what I mean. The first 3 dances are sensational.
7-9 Alsop. These performances were makeweights for 2 of Alsop's Brahms cycle. Very well played but lacking much charm. Alsop's Brahms symphony cycle was a winner though.
10-12 Abbado. I've always liked this disc but more for the superb playing of the VPO. It has little rustic warmth but those strings are glorious.
13-15 Fischer. The Dances were all completely re-or hestrated by Fischer for this set and, for me, it stands just behind Bogar as a complete set. Fisher's 'Magyar' retouches work largely superbly but I agree that 14 is a misstep (which is why I included it). I just wanted to see what you thought. The rest of the set is great.
16-18. Rolla. This was well liked and I'm not surprised. I really like this set as an alternative. A Hungarian conductor using an Hungarian chamber orchestra (of a similar size to what Liszt would have experienced) totally change the sound of this music. This one has been knocking around on a few budget labels over the years but it's no fake or poor performance. It's just a very interesting take on this music and one you can purchase for a few pounds. Full of folksy, Hungarian charm and a great alternative take on the Dances.
19-21 Ormandy. Its Ormandy so you k ow what to expect, sweeping strings, lush textures but he does them very well. A 'days gone by' performance, the like of which we're unlikely to hear again.
 

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4-6 Bogar. This one is a desert island disc for me and one of the best in the Naxos catalogue. Normally conductors pulling the tempi is a no-no for me but these are folk dances and it sounds right here. This one got a Penguin rosette on release and many excellent reviews and whilst it's not for everyone I love it's rustic Hungarian charm. Listen to the whole set and you'll hear what I mean. The first 3 dances are sensational.
You see - that's what I mean! I also have enjoyed this set greatly over many years. And yet lined up against (or next to) others for "evaluation" I not only fail to recognise it but I also don't like it too much! I am not sure why these things work like this for me. At the same time, just after posting I wondered if 13-15 were Fischer (after I had checked out who had recorded the pieces) and wanted to go back to hear if a case for the his 14 could be made (after all I had liked 13 and 15). Rolla is an interesting finding.

These things are fun and I am grateful for the work put into setting them up. But for me anyway "blind" does not seem to mean a more reliable guide to my taste (or more objective or what have you) than knowing which is which. I don't understand why it is that way for me but have become convinced it is.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
The Rolla is interesting. Looks like Mr. Rolla made the string orchestra transcription for the whole set? This is really interesting. I need to see if I can hunt it down.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Johannes-Brahms-Hungarian-Dances-No-1-21/dp/B00468RYCE/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=franz+liszt+chamber+hungarian+dances&qid=1585144243&sr=8-2
I bought it from Ebay for just over a pound many years ago but it has aa different cover than any other CD version I've seen and has 'Promo copy not for sale' on the back. I had to back it up onto CDR a few years back as it yellowed drastically and finally the silver peeled off a while back. It sometimes shows up on the Errato Success label but mine is a different cover (more like the silver one below but in brown!).

It's available on Ebay as a download for £7.99 (UK) - see above or from the US (see below) for $8.99

https://www.amazon.com/Johannes-Brahms-Hungarian-Dances-No-1-21/dp/B00467B4Q2/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=franz+liszt+hungarian+dances&qid=1585144474&sr=8-2

It's also on Spotify and Deezer. If you're still struggling to get it drop me a line. ;)

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My apologies for not having the time to take part, Merl, but I wanted to express my thanks for the time and effort that you put into these kinds of threads and would like to encourage you to continue doing so as this was quite a novel concept.

:tiphat:

- Duncan
 

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Hey Merl, nice exercise, many thx for your efforts in setting this up.
I find the dances are a starter to the main course and over-indulging only spoils the main course.
I could bones in most of them but the 4-6 did strike me the most consistent in their approach. 1-3 was like in your face approach. Ok for a couple dances but you would soon get fatigued with the overbearing approach.
Trying to get an Hungarian feeling, with lightness of touch, but excitement as well, is quite a balancing act.
16-18 is spot on the money but then its a smaller ensemble and quite different to the norm.

4-6 is the overall winner. Nice work Merl.
 

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You see - that's what I mean! I also have enjoyed this set greatly over many years. And yet lined up against (or next to) others for "evaluation" I not only fail to recognise it but I also don't like it too much!
As far as the first part, the same thing happened to me: I do have the Fischer/Budapest we all at least partly knocked and didn't recognize it, but the second part is different because there was little or no change: I'd played it once or twice and put it with my "alternates" and now I see again why. :) This is the first of these threads I've played on (though I did get in on the William Tell thing late after this) and I think I love them because I like to be free of any extrinsic bias and just see what happens.

It's like being Luke with the helmet and blast shield in Star Wars - trust your feelings! :)

Anyway, I'll be looking for that Abbado (or possiby Rolla). Thanks again for the thread, Merl!
 

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^

I suppose occasionally there are things like that that creep into the 2nd hand market. E.g. Afaik Karajan's last studio recording of Beethoven 9, recorded by DG in 1986, was a gift CD to the patrons of his Salzburg Easter Festival, which was never released nor included in any of DG's "complete" Karajan editions.

You've certainly got a gem there, Merl. It doesn't look bad, and it sounds really good! That's why I thought 16-18 was a recent recording. I'm really surprised to find out that it was recorded in 1980.
 
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