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Brahms: Symphonies, Overtures & Violin Concerto
Johannes Brahms, Christoph von Dohnányi, Cleveland Orchestra
Brahms: Symphonies, Overtures & Violin Concerto
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (5) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (5) - Disc #2
  •  Track Listings (7) - Disc #3
  •  Track Listings (5) - Disc #4

This box contains the most highly regarded Brahms Symphonies and the Violin Concerto recorded by the Cleveland Orchestra under the direction of Christoph von Dohnanyi.


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CD Details

All Artists: Johannes Brahms, Christoph von Dohnányi, Cleveland Orchestra
Title: Brahms: Symphonies, Overtures & Violin Concerto
Members Wishing: 0
Total Copies: 0
Label: Warner Classics
Original Release Date: 1/1/2007
Re-Release Date: 4/24/2007
Genre: Classical
Styles: Forms & Genres, Concertos, Instruments, Strings, Symphonies
Number of Discs: 4
SwapaCD Credits: 4
UPC: 825646415922


Album Description
This box contains the most highly regarded Brahms Symphonies and the Violin Concerto recorded by the Cleveland Orchestra under the direction of Christoph von Dohnanyi.

CD Reviews

The most highly regarded cycle of the symphonies
Prescott Cunningham Moore | 11/19/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"There certainly is no shortage of excellent Brahms cycles; indeed the short-list of solid cycles is anything but short. Towards the bottom of the list of recommended cycles are the entries by Georg Solti and Marin Alsop. It may come as a surprise to many that some of Solti's best work with Chicago was his Brahms cycle. His Third was really something; true, he showcased the orchestra's famous brass somewhat gratuitously, but there was no shortage of excitement. The First was predictably craggy, edgy, and muscular (with first-movement expositional repeat). The Second was almost shockingly successful, Solti delivering a truly memorable account. The low point was the Fourth. While the finale was played to the hilt by the Chicago band, Solti really missed the subtleties of the first two movements while the scherzo sounded more heavy than ironic.

Alsop's cycle peaked with a strong but lyrical Third. Her second was flowing, and solid, while the outer symphonies were solid. She was clearly well-versed in Brahms' idiomatic language, but her readings lacked the hard-edge romanticism found in other cycles.

Towards the middle of recommendable cycles stand Marek Janowski's cycle with the Pittsburg Symphony Orchestra and Gunter Wand's NDR cycle. Wand, a master of German romanticism, supplies a welcome balance between the romantic and the classical in his four outings with the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra on two discs. Still, as far as cycles go, the conspicuous absence of the overtures and the Variations on the St. Anthony Choral makes this cycle less-than-ideal. On the other hand, Janowski's cycle comes with the variations and eight Hungarian dances, all in SCAD format.

At the top of the recommended list stands a trio of fantastic cycles. Eugene Jochum's cycle with the London Philharmonic on EMI is a cycle that offers exceptional clarity, brilliant playing, and unyielding energy. The finale of the Second Symphony has never been matched for sheer explosiveness while his First, Third, and Fourth symphonies are simply stunning. Either of James Levine's cycles (Chicago on RCA or Vienna on DG, both deleted) are the benchmark for listeners who desire passion above all else. Indeed, the Vienna performances, taken from a series of live concerts, are not the last word in orchestral perfection, but there is a visceral energy to the performances that is refreshing in this music. The studio recordings from Chicago are more controlled, but are recorded in early RCA digital sound. The violins are excessively steely, the brass bright and ever-present, and the performances as a whole lack a sense of depth and color.

But my favorite Brahms cycle has always been Christoph von Dohnanyi's Cleveland cycle. Performances of this caliber are rare, even from this source, where orchestral perfection and precision is married with readings of the utmost excitement, energy, and power. The Cleveland players deliver for Dohnanyi technically perfect performances that have a shocking amount of orchestral clarity, balance, and weight. The players give their music director everything for which he could possibly ask, allowing him to surrender to his interpretations.

There are no highlights in this cycle - the level of consistency is remarkable - but Dohnanyi's Third has always been regarded as one of the three or four reference recordings of the symphony. And rightfully so. Rarely are conductors been able to elicit such an unclogged sound from an orchestra on modern instruments while maintaining such a high level of focused energy. The brass work in the first movement is stunning while the wind parts all register with appropriate clarity. The appearance of the coda is violent and awesomely effective. The two central movements balance each other nicely; the andante flows naturally, never dragging, while the poco allegretto features some wonderfully full-bodied playing from the strings. The finale is stunning from start to finish. But it is the passionate build-up to the recapitulation that is so special about this performance. That the orchestra could create such an explosive sound while still maintaining an appropriate sense of balance is truly a testament to the quality of the orchestra under Dohnanyi's tenure.

The Second is equally delightful. The first movement, with expositional repeat, flows naturally but never sounds long. The horn work is mellifluous, the developmental climax is quite satisfying, and the coda is appropriately whimsical. The adagio is passionate but never wallows in emotional excess while the little allegretto simply smiles from the speakers. The finale is a wondrous romp. Dohnanyi highlights the music's boisterous nature but never looses sight of Brahms' serious undertones. The second theme, with it's famous "Scottish Snap" is sumptuously played by the strings while the coda features some full-bodied playing from the lower brass (Decca always had trouble capturing the lower brass at Severance Hall, no worries here, however).

The first is equally magnificent. The introduction opens proudly and leads into the allegro, where Dohnanyi and his Cleveland players seem to have an unlimited reserve of stamina and energy. Dohnanyi makes a convincing case for omitting the expositional repeat by highlighting Brahms's perfectly balanced exposition - development - recapitulation sonata structure. The andante is shaped beautifully in Dohnanyi's hands, leading to an almost spiritual closing cadence. The orchestra is all smiles in the allegretto, featuring some truly miraculous wind playing - the sectional clarity is simply stunning. But it is the finale that defines a performance of the First, and by this standard Dohnanyi certainly produces a performance that stands side-by-side with the best. Indeed, Dohnanyi's Cleveland First is very similar to Wand's Chicago First (one of the greatest performances ever lavished on the C-minor symphony) but features even more explosive, incisive playing with an overall better sense of balance, structure, and control.

Dohnanyi's E-minor Symphony is one of the few conceptions that correctly captures the transition from start to finish. Like Carlos Kleiber and Kent Nagano, Dohnanyi is able to highlight the architectural genius of this, Brahms's most magnificent symphony. His first movement is appropriately intellectual, but never sounds overly clinical, studied, or academic. The andante is played like a true romanze, featuring stunningly full-bodied horn work. The horns deliver an equally magnificent sound in the third movement, the only true symphonic scherzo the composer ever wrote. Dohnanyi correctly captures to bumptious energy of the music but never succumbs to the tendency towards pompous banality that inflicts so many other performances. Best of all, Dohnanyi delivers a finale that is second to none - his concentration throughout is shocking. What is so special about this performance is how Dohnanyi is able to highlight the uniqueness of Brahms writing. The music is, at its most basic, a passacaglia, a Spanish dance based on an ostinato bass theme. However, Brahms uses the passacaglia theme for a set of thirty otherworldly variations. However, he structures these variations in such a way as to create the illusion of sonata form, complete with exposition, development, recapitulation, and coda. Never has a performance captured the multi-facetedness of the writing like Dohnanyi does. It also does not hurt that the playing and energy throughout is unyielding, sustained right through the final chord.

The overtures are equally delightful. It's nice to hear the Tragic Overture played with conviction. It is a mature work that deserves more performances like this - powerful, energetic, but well-balanced with a keen eye on the underlying sonata form foundation. The Festival Overture is quickly paced, which robs the music of some of its humor. It's not surprising that Dohnanyi would highlight the more serious aspects of this work, but the playing is top-notch and the closing passages are nothing but thrilling. Dohnanyi does not indulge the overture's inherent "lightness," making a successful argument for the music's rightful place as one of Brahms's most successful compositions.

The Variations are, simply put, the best on disc. Like in the passacaglia, Dohnanyi masterfully highlights the various episodes while still maintaining an appropriate musical arch. The final passages are awesomely effective; all the while, the playing and concentration is second-to-none.

As for the violin concerto, everyone will have their own personal favorite performances, from Heifitz's no-nonsense performance with the Chicago Symphony under Reiner, Shaham's brilliant performance with the Berliner Philharmoniker under a (surprisingly) alert Abbado, Bell's Decca recording with Dohnanyi and Cleveland, to Rachel Barton-Pine's recent Chicago Symphony recording that is a perfect marriage of energy and lyricism. Thomas Zehetmair may not be as well known as some of the other violinists that have recorded this concerto, but his performance, married with Dohnanyi's brilliant accompaniment, is certainly equal any of the better performances on disc. Furthermore, unlike most other romantic concertos, all four of Brahms's concertos are essentially symphonies with a soloist, so it is paramount that the orchestra be on the same level as the soloist. Here, Cleveland plays the music to the hilt, delivering the perfect base for Zehetmair's fine finger work.

The sonics throughout are clear and consistent. The playing is sensational. And the interpretations stand at the top. There really is no finer cycle. Highly recommended."
A very fine Brahms 4th
Mr Darcy | Australia | 09/11/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"My comments in this review are confined to the performance of the 4th Symphony. The performances of the other Symphonies (I have not listened to the Violin Concerto or other orchestral works) are disciplined, conventionally paced and well recorded, but, to these ears at least, not particularly special.

The performance of the 4th is another matter. It has all the usual hallmarks of a Dohnanyi performance, but with an added degree of tension and individuality that set it apart from the performances of the other Symphonies. I would count it as one of the three best recorded performances of the work, the other two being with the Vienna Philharmonic under Carlos Kleiber and Carlo Maria Giulini respectively (for many, Giulini's earlier reading with the Chicago Symphony will be preferable, but some unconvincing gestures along with less than ideal sound make it less preferable for me - the Vienna account sounds more at ease with itself).

In some ways, Dohnanyi's reading is a mid-point between the Kleiber and Giulini performances, the former being taut, spare and relentless in its rush towards the work's tragic conclusion, the latter more ripely romantic, nostalgic, with dynamic contrasts heightened.

In the first two movements Dohnanyi adopts broadish tempi, leaning perhaps towards Giulini's conception. He draws a lovely clean but singing tone from all string departments and phrases are well rounded. In the second movement, conductor and orchestra are clearly given over to the sensousness of the music. The Cleveland woodwinds consistently produce the most beautiful, velvety sounds: listen, for example, to the clarinets in the opening section of the second movement after the initial statement of the horns. Yet the drama contained in these movements is powerfully conveyed, the Cleveland horns being a particular highlight, ringing out spendidly.

The third movement has great swagger, and the final movement surges forth in a manner similar to Kleiber. In these movements, in particular, one is aware of the Cleveland Orchestra's famed precision and smoothness of execution.

The sound of the recording itself is excellent: full bodied but clear, and exceptionally well balanced. Instrumental sections (eg the brass) cut through the orchestral texture, allowing one to hear details that are often clouded in other recordings. A tribute, no doubt, to Dohnanyi as well as to the recording team.
Its momentum will make you tilt
P. Dave | Columbus, OH | 09/11/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Prescott Cunningham Moore is spot on in his evaluation of these Brahms symphonies. I fully concur with his assessment. I have enjoyed these as much as my other favorite collection of Brahms symphonies by Walter with Columbia Symphony orchestra. For me, the ideal Brahms symphonies are about momentum and drive when called for (1st movement of Brahms symphony 1 and 3, final movement 2nd symphony) but also need for soaring strings to create the aching beauty (3rd movement of symphony 3). I want to hear the bass instruments deeply (which helps create momentum) and the horns which punctuate the accents. In the slow movements, I want to hear the woodwinds flutter. This collection of Brahms does that for me. It is paced just right (not too fast nor too slow). Sound is superb. Buy it if you love Brahms."