Best modern Brahms symphony 4?

Started by Bruckner is God, May 19, 2011, 03:52:21 AM

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It's odd that Norrington's earlier cycle has disappeared, because you know it would definitely sell a certain amount. I found the Stuttgart set surprisingly conventional in approach. For myself, I think we need quicker tempos and lighter textures in Brahms. I haven't yet heard the Weingartner....

Dancing Divertimentian

Quote from: Sergeant Rock on May 28, 2011, 04:06:45 AM
According to the liner notes in the Mackerras set Brahms actually preferred the smaller string sections in the provincial bands (the better to hear the winds). When the Meiningen Court Orchestra offered to hire more strings for their performance of the Fourth, Brahms declined the offer.

That's an interesting sentiment for Mackerras (and other HIPsters) to pick up on but it won't fly for a Brahms symphony cycle as a whole - the second and third symphonies were premiered by the Vienna Philharmonic! :)

Veit Bach-a baker who found his greatest pleasure in a little cittern which he took with him even into the mill and played while the grinding was going on. In this way he had a chance to have the rhythm drilled into him. And this was the beginning of a musical inclination in his descendants. JS Bach


Quote from: Dancing Divertimentian on May 29, 2011, 07:27:03 PM
That's an interesting sentiment for Mackerras (and other HIPsters) to pick up on but it won't fly for a Brahms symphony cycle as a whole - the second and third symphonies were premiered by the Vienna Philharmonic! :)

I fail to see any contradiction between the fact that the works were premiered by large ensemble and the notion that Brahms preferred the sound of a smaller ensemble.


I imagine the Vienna Phil in Brahms's time was smaller than it is now.


you look at the number of winds specified in the original score and take it from there.


Quote from: Marc on May 26, 2011, 11:27:43 AM
Eduard van Beinum?

Thanks for mentioning that. I think it's a wonderful performance.

I think I have only heard this Brahms symphony and some Haydn from van Beinum, but in all cases I really click with his style. He's so intense: his Haydn Clock Symphony has to be heard to be believed! There are times when he punctuates the music with passages which border on frenzy and I really like that, yet it's always fully under control-- in Haydn and in Brahms. And the phrasing is so light and lithe, without over intrusive rubato, but not at all rigid. And the orchestra sounds glorious, as you suggested by your post.

Cotroled; powerful; slightly threateningly intense, svelte, modest: how can anyone resist that combination?

I also have a BWV 1052 with Lipatti -- I need to play that again as I can't remember anything about it!

Any other recommendations from this conductor will be appreciated. I would love to hear his Eroica (it used to be on DVD as far as I can see) -- if someone could upload the sound I would be very happy  :)
Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muss man schweigen


Quote from: emma on May 28, 2011, 02:25:48 AMI love Guilini in this Chicago perfomance

but I dont think it can be called "modern".

I have this in EMI's Giulini in Chicago box, and it is an excellent performance, marred by poor sound for its vintage.  The Fanfare review describes it as sounding like it was transferred from a worn LP, which is an apt description.  I've never gotten a good answer as to whether this GROC issue is an improvement. [It is; the sound is fine.  Not sure what went wrong with the transfer in the Chicago box.]

If "modern" means a digital recording, then a dark horse to try is the Skrowaczewski with the Hallé (this is not Barbirolli's scrappy Hallé; they were a much more polished sounding band by the time these Brahms recordings were made.)  The very fine engineering is by Trygg Tryggvason.  The performance itself is big romantic Brahms.

It might be a bit hard to source.  It was also on the IMP label.  The cheapest listing I see is


A little late to this discussion...

By modern, I take that to mean digital stereo. Nothing else really qualifies the description otherwise given how long we've already been in the digital era.

Of course, there is no way around Kleiber's epic 4th, which has deservedly been praised to the heavens. Simply none equals the sweep and inevitability of the final movement, combined with the attention to detail in phrasing. A must have, even if it's not your favored interpretation or sound. You just need to hear this as a reference. Even if you end up preferring others eventually, you'll return to hear what is possible.


Either one of Haintink's recent Brahms 4's (with Boston or London) should equally be considered, for Haitink's usual unsurpassed meticulousness which never comes at the expense of warmth and forward motion, at least in Brahms.



A personal favorite of mine is Barenboim/CSO. His timings and overall tempos are close to Kleiber's, but with a bit more give and take in between. He also finds so much more color than any of the others. I've said it before here and I'll say it again: the second movement must be heard to be believed. I've never heard it realized with such an amazing blend of sound and such a beautifully spun long line as it is done here. Pure magic. Last movement is not quite as riveting as Kleiber's but impactful still.


Another recording of interest is Dohnanyi/Cleveland. As one would expect from this combo, this is a more analytical Brahms, but still beautifully played and well structured. You will find interesting new things you didn't know were there from listening to this.



I have that Barenboim recording.  I have to find the right time to listen to it.


I've been doing some comparison listening recently... (and am reviving this thread as the most appropriate place for comparisons, despite the "modern" adjective in the title)

Fischer/Budapest Festival. What a disappointment. The main problem is in the first two movements, where the violins have a softness and lack of focus which is starkly different from the sound of the rest of the orchestra. At times they seem to be in a different acoustic - as if half the violinists are seated behind the winds and brass in the far back left of the stage. Their soft, caressing phrasing just isn't tragic, and the flowing violin melody of the slow movement, particularly, is deliberately stutter-stepped in an effort to de-romanticize it and reduce momentum. The final two movements are much better, but damage is done.

Harnoncourt/Berlin. To my surprise, Harnoncourt noodles around a bit with melodies too, introducing a bizarre rhythmic halt in the tune that's introduced by cellos/horns in the first movement around 1:30-1:45 (and then 8:40). I guess to make it waltzy? But he doesn't divide the Berlin Philharmonic against itself. Like the Budapest recording, the woodwinds are quite prominent (love the horns popping in at 9:25), but unlike the Budapest recording, this transparency doesn't diminish the momentum of the outer movements. I wish the first movement's final chord didn't taper off, but man, the timpani sound perfectly doom-ish. The rest of the symphony goes well, and the finale really builds nicely. Much better, but not quite A-list.

Kertesz/Vienna. At last, a big rich full orchestral sound and no mannerisms! The first movement is absolutely stunning, as hair-raisingly apocalyptic as Kleiber (love the abrupt cut-off of the last chord, rather than letting it fizzle like Harnoncourt). The slow movement glows, the finale glowers. Maybe, maybe, there isn't quite the transparency of the others, but there is passion and force and emotion and all the things I really want to hear. I've got a few others I want to re-audition - an American circuit of Janowski/Pittsburgh, Levine/Chicago, and Dohnanyi/Cleveland - but will leave things contentedly here for today.


Decided to play another while prepping bibimbap, a delicious dinner which requires spending a lot of time slicing vegetables.

Mackerras/Scottish Chamber. The French horn lover's Brahms 4, with super prominent and good horns all the way through, maybe a little too much so in some places (as when paired with the massed cellos in the first movement). Despite being much smaller than the Budapest forces (and, in a couple places, less rhythmically secure), the Scottish players have a more cultivated Brahmsian sound with loving phrasing and, somehow, fullness. Mackerras' faster tempos create some urgency, but never haste, and everything goes the way it should, especially the smashing hornfest of the scherzo. Slides solidly into second place of the four.

Edit: Shouldn't have posted that during the flute solo in the finale! Must add there is one decided eccentricity on Mackerras' part - in the last two "variations" of the finale, he creates a Dramatic Ending by slowing down (penultimate) and then super speeding up (final). It's goofy, but it's not bad, and I can live with it.


Levine/Chicago. One of the most urgent recordings around, a couple minutes slower than Dohnanyi or Harnoncourt, but this only becomes noticeable towards the end of the first movement, where maybe the tempo's inflexibility in the preceding music reduces the impact of the final pages a little bit. It's an overall powerful performance from start to end with deep bass and a wide sonic stage, but the appeal is limited by the recorded sound, from RCA in 1976. The winds and brass are fine, but the massed strings have a coarseness, a rough opacity, which sounds like a recording from, say, 1959. Perhaps both overly bass-heavy and overly bright up top at the same time, the sound really prevents the violins from singing as much as they could. I bet this would have been tremendously good to hear live in person in 1976, when you didn't have to worry about either the recorded sound or the knowledge that the conductor is a deranged sex criminal.

(Btw, with regard to the sound - I listened to the CD in the super cheap Sony reissue "white" box.)


Modern to me is after the 2000s, from my comparisons from various recordings the two best performances I've heard in that time span are Mácal (also the best cycle I've heard from the 2000s) and the one from Eschenbach's second cycle.

update: forgot about Manfred Honeck which is another that I would consider one of the best that can hang with the two below.


Here are my favorites in order:

I don't know if by modern we mean stereo or a stricter definition...

Spotted Horses

Quote from: Scarpia on June 07, 2011, 12:51:51 PMI have that Barenboim recording.  I have to find the right time to listen to it.

Still haven't found the right time. :)
There are simply two kinds of music, good music and the other kind. - Duke Ellington


Quote from: DavidW on April 21, 2024, 05:59:49 AMHere are my favorites in order:

I don't know if by modern we mean stereo or a stricter definition...

I'm also partial to the Kleiber/DG, though the sound is infamously glaring in a few spots ( not enough that it should dissuade prospective collectors, as Kleiber proves as worthy an interpreter here as anyone ).

I'm not familiar with the Böhm or Klemperer, unfortunately.

My usual alternate is von Karajan/BPO from 1964, my " imprint " for the piece. Not very modern l suppose, but nonetheless gratifying when I'm in the mood for that vintage DG quality.
Mit Flügeln, die ich mir errungen...

Spotted Horses

Quote from: LKB on April 21, 2024, 07:21:47 AMMy usual alternate is von Karajan/BPO from 1964, my " imprint " for the piece. Not very modern l suppose, but nonetheless gratifying when I'm in the mood for that vintage DG quality.

The 1964 Karajan recording of Brahms 4 has an extraordinary first movement, which as I recall has a unusually slow tempo, which somehow gives it remarkable power and vividness. Karajan 1978 was my imprint.

Another thing, after I saw MishaK's praise of Barenboim/CSO I poked around and found a gramophone review of the Barenboim/Staatskapel Berlin, which dismissed Barenboim/CSO as a worthless turd. Another reminder not to bother with gramophone.

I recently revisited Maazel/Cleveland on Decca, which is also remarkable.

There are simply two kinds of music, good music and the other kind. - Duke Ellington


Classical music always makes me feel young when something considered modern is recorded decades before I was born  ;D

I was questioning if setting the cutoff at 2000 would have been a bit too early; a baby born in the year 2000 would be half way through medical school right now!

Anyway I forgot about Manfred Honeck, another modern recording that I would consider one of the best along with Eschenbach II and Mácal.


My favorites are

Klemperer the teutonic
Walther (CBS) the warm and lyrical
Boult (Pye) the classical
Van Beinum maybe the most Brahmsian
Any so-called free choice is only a choice between the available options.