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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor (1855-76)
Symphony No. 2 in D major (1877)
Symphony No. 3 in F major (1883)
Symphony No. 4 in E minor (1884-5)
Violin Concerto in D major * (1878)
Variations on a Theme by Haydn (‘St Anthony Chorale’) (1873)
Academic Festival Overture (1880)
Tragic Overture (1880 rev. 1881)
Alto Rhapsody † (1869)
Hungarian Dances (No. 1 in G major; No. 3 in F major; and No. 19 in B minor orch. by Dvorak) (1873)
*Bernadette Greevy (contralto) with the Hallé Choir
† Maurice Hasson (violin)
Hallé Orchestra conducted by James Loughran
Recorded in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester in 1974 and 1975 and digitally remastered at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios in 1992 and 2002
[4 CDs: 278:56]


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I well remember eagerly awaiting each succeeding release of these super-budget Classics for Pleasure Brahms recordings, so affectionately performed by the Hallé under James Loughran, when they first appeared on LP in the mid-1970s. They were very enthusiastically reviewed then, and they make a very welcome reappearance in this generously filled 4 CD set. They were digitally remastered in 1992 (and the Hungarian Dances and Violin Concerto in 2002) so that they now sound every bit as good as any present day release.

The four symphonies were especially well praised. Listening to them again now with more experienced ears they still impress greatly. In Loughran’s hands, the First Symphony in C minor is gorgeously lyrical with an attractive freshness. It has a lightness of touch and grace without heavy-handedness; but with no sacrifice of dramatic power either. The finale unfolds magnificently with a terrific climax. The lighter spring-like Second Symphony is immaculately and enthusiastically played with warmth and tenderness. The Third Symphony on the other hand is unusually deliberate with the Andante sombrely reflective and the melody of the Poco allegretto third movement (that became the tune for a ‘pop’ song) rather more rueful than usual while the finale is contrastingly biting and defiant. The more austere Symphony No. 4 is nicely poised and driven forward with an exciting scherzo third movement, and an energetic finale.

The Violin Concerto with soloist Maurice Hasson, faces much competition and though this cannot be compared with so many top-drawer performances, it is warmly romantic and vital enough with a beautifully phrased Adagio central movement and a vivacious gypsy-rhythm finale.

Full marks to Loughran’s St Anthony Variations beautifully realised especially the lovely Variation VII’s evocation of a Baroque siciliana and Variation VIII’s hunting-horn motif. The Hallé’s Tragic Overture is nicely paced, heroic and dramatic with a most tender central melody; and the ceremonial Academic Festival Overture has great pomp and nostalgic charm. Bernadette Greevy and the Hallé Choir join to give a most persuasive and moving account of Brahms’ lovely life-affirming Alto Rhapsody (worth the price of the album alone!). The Hungarian Dances are characterful and vivacious.

[Loughran and the Hallé also recorded the two Brahms piano concertos. These were released by ASV.]

Excellent performances, critically acclaimed in their day and now gathered together in an irresistible super-bargain 4 CD box set. Why pay more?

Ian Lace

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