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Brahms: Symphony 3

4.5 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Audio CD, January 30, 2007
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Editorial Reviews

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The Third Symphony, one of Brahms's most poetic and evocative works, was hailed by the critic Eduard Hanslick as 'artistically the most perfect'equal to the best of Brahms's works'a feast for the music-lover and musician'. Arguably the composer's greatest

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Marin Alsop and the London Philharmonic continue their foray into the Brahms symphonies with what some people feel is the Master's greatest work--certainly the one filled with his most poetic utterances. It is impossible not to be enchanted by the abundance of folk-like, the easy melodies in the first movement, or the pastoral wind opening of the second--here played so naturally and warmly under Alsop that it sounds like speech. The sad little melody of the third movement is not lingered over, and the waltz seems to come from a faraway place (with stunning horn playing); the finale triumphant and energetic, with quite a storm at its center and a true build-up of tension racing toward the finish. The LPO is superb, the winds, in particular, playing as if Dvorak has coached them. The Haydn Variations are given a colorful, flavorful performance, with the brass spectacular in both their restraint and lack thereof when called for. This is a stunning release: a must-have. --Robert Levine
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (January 30, 2007)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Naxos
  • ASIN: B000L42J8Q
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #215,428 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

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By J Scott Morrison HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 31, 2007
Format: Audio CD
Brahms's Third Symphony has been the subject of much discussion as to whether the ubiquitous melodic and harmonic occurrences of the sequence - F A (or A flat) F - are Brahms's answer to his friend, Joseph Joachim's mottor F A E. Joachim's F A E stood for 'frei aber einsam' ('free but lonely') while Brahms's F A F presumably stood for 'frei aber froh' ('free but happy'). More likely the this symphony's alternation of F A F with F Ab F is Brahms's way of giving us harmonic complexity altering, as it does, F major with F minor. And not only does he alter major and minor he also alters how 6/8 is divided up: is it three groups of two beats, or two groups of three beats per measure? These two technical matters make up much of the symphony's fascination for musicologists. But, more important, listeners without a smidgen of musicological knowledge are also smitten by this great symphony, with possibly Brahms's most subtle discourse.

The Third had a great success at its premiere in 1883, enough so that Brahms was taken aback, worrying that he would never again be able to equal it. He rushed right into the composition of his Fourth Symphony and on its premiere his worries were allayed.

There have, of course, been many fine recordings of the Third Symphony. And many of them are available at budget prices. So Naxos doesn't necessarily have the price advantage it so often does. However, this performance is one of the better ones around, abetted by wonderfully clear sound and an intelligent, graceful and heartfelt performance led by Marin Alsop. The London Philharmonia plays beautifully here; special mention must be made of the glorious playing of the winds, the horns in particular. One seemingly can hear everything, not always the case with Brahms's sometimes bass-thick orchestrations.
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I first heard this recording on my car radio and immediately pricked up my ears. I did not know who was conducting, but the unusual tempo just grabbed me. I said to my husband "Wow--WHO is doing this? It's superb!" And it stayed superb all the way through the symphony, in every way. And I am a professional orchestra musician (Viola, Radio Filharmonisch Orkest Holland) so it takes something to grab me that way.

When the symphony was over, the radio announcer SIGHED into the microphone and said "That was Marin Alsop conducting the London Philharmonic."

Can you get a better review than that?
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Quite interestingly, the general consensus back in the 1930s and 40s was that this Symphony, the Third (of Four) by Johannes Brahms was not only his best, but also the best Symphony of any composer since Beethoven. Of course, some might agree... and others would strongly argue for Dvorak's Eighth or Ninth, or perhaps one or more of Tchaikovsky's final three grand Symphonies. Of course, all four of Brahm's are well-liked, for different reasons. One thing is sure, this latest release by Marin Alsop and the LPO is the best of the first three released thus far. I certainly will not go into great detail about each movement. Suffice to say that the sound quality is superb, the orchestral playing, especially by the woodwinds, is very good indeed, and the tempos are well-chosen. The Haydn Variations make for an attractive coupling, and comes across excellently. Once again, the woodwind playing is very nice. Gramophone magazine, perhaps the most respected of all classical reviewers, gave this a very good review, as well as Classics Today, which gave this recording a 10/10, their highest score. I venture to say, both of these cannot be wrong, and neither am I. This CD is highly recommended, and at a very attractive price.
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Regarding Marin Alsop's version of Brahm's Third and the Haydn Variations, first the good news. The recorded sound is beautiful and detailed, the orchestral playing is superb, and the interpretation is thoughtful and personal. I found the brisk and detailed performance of the Haydn Variations to be quite enjoyable, displaying Brahms the Classicist in good form. Now, the bad news. The interpretation of the third symphony, while personal and even individualistic, has its exciting moments, but seems somewhat understated at times, and leaves me a bit underwhelmed. While Reiner (my favorite performance), Szell, and even Haitink revel in Brahms' syncopations, Alsop does not, in my opinion, and the performance becomes more soft-edged as a result - a defensible choice, perhaps, but not mine (or theirs). The tempo marking of the first mvmt. is "allegro con brio" not "allegro moderato". Alsop begins with two almost mournful chords and proceeds allegro moderato, although she does whip up some excitement later in the movement. Reiner is definite "con brio", while Haitink is more "maestoso", but solid and granitic in a Klemperer sort of way that works well in spite of the slightly slower tempo. Alsop's second and third mvmts are a bit lightweight (classical?)and quick, and come across similarly as "Intermezzo I&II". This approach does not do justice to the gorgeous melody of mvmt 3. The last mvmt is quite well done, however. This recording will never be my favorite. The other three take precedence. Overall, I give four stars at most.
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