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Solti: Brahms – The Symphonies (4 CD box set, APE)

Solti: Brahms - The Symphonies (4 CD box set, APE)

Solti: Brahms – The Symphonies (4 CD box set, APE)

Composer: Johannes Brahms
Orchestra: Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Georg Solti
Audio CD
Number of Discs: 4 CD box set
Format: APE (image+cue)
Label: Decca
Size: 807 MB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: yes

CD 01
Symphony no.1 in C minor, op.68
01. I. Un poco sostenuto – Allegro
02. II. Andante sostenuto
03. III. Un poco allegretto e grazioso
04. IV. Adagio – Più andante – Allegro non troppo, ma con brio

CD 02
Symphony no.2 in D major, op.73
01. I. Allegro non troppo
02. II. Adagio non troppo
03. III. Allegretto grazioso (Quasi andantino) – Presto ma non assai
04. IV. Allegro con spirito

05. Tragic Overture, op.81

CD 03
Symphony no.3 in F major, op.90
01. I. Allegro con brio
02. II. Andante
03. III. Poco allegretto
04. IV. Allegro

05. Academic Festival Overture, op.80

CD 04
Symphony no.4 in E minor, op.98
01. I. Allegro non troppo
02. II. Andante moderato
03. III. Allegro giocoso
04. IV. Allegro energico e passionato

Un-sensational Brahms

One generally tends to think of Georg Solti as a sensationalistic conductor–going for spectacular orchestral effects even at the expense of line, structure and mood. Whether this generalization is in any sense apt is an open question, but it certainly doesn’t apply to Solti’s remarkably cogent Brahms cycle.

Surprisingly, the performances in this box are closer in style to Klemperer than to Stokowski or Bernstein. That means slow and steady rather than febrile or opulent. The First begins grandly with a hugely powerful and perfectly paced introduction, and thereafter tends to sobriety. Even in the finale Solti favors structural cohesion over dramatic incident, though the big moments (such as the return of the chorale in the coda) are undeniably effective. The Second is more upbeat, as it should be, but the emphasis once again falls on majesty rather than visceral excitement. The finale brims with energy, yet everything is under control. The Third is quite magnificent, with an evocative ramble through the slow movement and a particularly haunting (and daringly slow) treatment of the third movement. I have heard more effective balancing of the triumphal and the troubling in the finale, but otherwise Solti does well in holding this difficult movement together. The Fourth is monumental, at times even marmoreal, with the tragic impulses held in check by a certain stoicism. The two overtures evince similar virtues: neither the rambustiousness of the *Academic Festival* nor the *Sturm und Drang* of the *Tragic* is overdone, though there is plenty of warmth in the CSO’s playing of both pieces. Indeed, the CSO acquits itself splendidly throughout Solti’s Brahms cycle; the winds in particular convey the long line with just the right amount of expressive pointing. The recording is rich and full, though somewhat bass-heavy as others have noted.

Altogether, this is one of the finest Brahms cycles I have auditioned, though as regards interpretation I wouldn’t put these performances ahead of those by such great historical figures as Furtwängler, Walter, Klemperer–or even by the sadly neglected (and currently unavailable) Steinberg. At least as far as Brahms is concerned, Solti emphasizes majesty over sonic thrills, and that speaks well of this sometimes maligned conductor. The one disadvantage is that Decca/Universal didn’t see fit to include the *Haydn Variations* which could have been easily accommodated given the skimpy playing time on a couple of these discs.

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