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Richard Osborne
Gramophone, April 2012

Discussing Brahms’s Third Symphony is one thing, conducting it is something else. Marin Alsop does both shrewdly, sensitively, perceptively. © 2012 Gramophone




Penguin Guide, January 2009

Marin Alsop in Brahms takes a romantic view in her expressive phrasing, well supported by the LPO, but then she tends to favour steady speeds, getting the best of both worlds. Indeed, tempi are perfectly chosen, with the second movement taken at a flowing Andante. Similar qualities extend to her fine reading of the Haydn Variations, well recorded, the Symphony in the Blackheath Concert Halls, the Variations in the Watford Colloseum.



Ted Libey
The Absolute Sound, June 2007

Alsop’s recording of the Brahms Third and Haydn Variations with the London Philharmonic is the third installment in a new cycle of the Brahms symphonies for Naxos. This is a prestige assignment and it shows how Alsop’s portfolio has grown in recent years. The Third is the hardest of Brahms’ symphonies for a conductor to put across, the hardest for audiences to fathom, and the hardest for orchestras to play. Entire pages of the first movement are metrically skewed, and the music of all four movements is harmonically and emotionally ambivalent, part of why this has long been the black sheep of the Brahmsian fold. There is an Olympian quality to Alsop’s interpretation that can certainly be justified, but it comes at the expense of conveying the mystery and the troubling depths of feeling (regret perhaps?) that make this symphony what it is. Alsop’s reading places and emphasis on the noble and beautiful—you can tell she’s a string player from the gently phrasings and soft attacks she encourages—and the result is certainly appealing, even if it lacks urgency and intensity. Her account of the Haydn Variations is quite fetching, and reveals them in all their beauty and complexity; here she clearly has her finger on Brahm’s pulse, which can’t yet be said for the symphony.

The Third was recorded in the rather muted acoustic of Blackheath Concert Hall and is sonically a bit of a letdown: the basis is diffuse, the strings seem distant, and wind details are lost. There’s greater immediacy and better balance to the sound of the Haydn Variations, recorded at Watford Town Hall. Here the basis is solid and the strings have body and bite.



Greg Barns
The Mercury (Tasmania, Australia), April 2007

According to the film maker Ken Russell, Brahms had passion on his mind when he was composing his wistful third symphony. That may be so, and there is no denying that this work is poetic and rich in harmonies, and rather more somber than his searing second symphony. The Variations on a Theme by Haydn—the St Antoni Chorale—is a more festive work, and couples well with the 3rd. Marin Alsop, who is recording the Brahms symphonic cycle, is a neat, if not somewhat safe, interpreter, but she and the LPO are a technically fine combination.



Michael Southern
Pittwater Life, April 2007

This budget-priced recording can take its place alongside the very best performances available on CD, and is highly recommendable. It is a fine reading of the Third with the London Philharmonic at its best.

Alsop’s recording is restrained and dignified, already being compared overseas with some of the great performances of the past dating back to include the Furtwängler and the Boult versions. But equally dignified is her performance of the St. Antoni Variations and it is difficult to think of a finer recording. Naxos has certainly placed itself among the major record companies with this disc.




Malcolm Hayes
Classic FM, March 2007

Fearsome competition here—but even so, these recordings hold up well. The LPO’s particular kind of lustrous focus suits Brahm’s music beautifully, and it responds to Alsop’s direction with playing that’s way beyond routine. Meanwhile she earns herself credit by including the repeat of the first movement’s opening section (many conductors don’t), and traces the music’s big trajectory with the surest of touch. Elsewhere, while some of her hands-on shifts of phrasing work better than others, you always see her point. And her way with the Haydn Variations exactly catches the music’s blend of warmth, intricate mistery and unpretentiousness.



Richard Osborne
Gramophone, March 2007

Brand-new budget-price recordings which can rub shoulders with the best are rarer than one imagines (Colin Davis’s 1962 HMV Concert Classics recording of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony was an early example) but this fine new Brahms disc probably comes into that category.

Finding a recommendable Brahms Third is more difficult than one might suppose. Since Felix Weingartner made his very fine LPO recording in 1938, the number of great, or even successful, Thirds can probably be listed on the fingers of two hands. Marin Alsop’s reading is certainly fine: dark of hue, lyrical and long drawn, though never, even for a moment, comatose. Rhythm is good, articulation keen, phrasing exquisite, the reading’s crepuscular colours glowingly realised by the LPO. The reading has a quality of melancholy, a wistfulness crossed with a sense of incipient tragedy, which is almost Elgarian (Elgar’s fascination with the piece is well attested).

Readings such as Furtwangler’s and Sanderling’s, which are more inclined to tower and course, may not have allowed themselves to be overtopped by the St Antoni Variations, yet there is something rather wonderful about the transition we have here from dark to light. It is a long time since I heard a performance of the Variations as well grounded and as keenly profiled as this. Winds are splendidly to the fore: skirling flutes, songful oboes, grumbling descants on the horns “in deep B”. It is, above all, a reading of great character: the horn-led sixth variation a burgherly jaunt, the seventh variation a handsome galliard, the finale a Meistersinger-like revel.



David Perkins
The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC), February 2007

After a solid First and Second symphonies, American conductor Marin Alsop’s series of Brahms symphonies with the London Philharmonic has moved into its next phase with a luxuriant and delicate Third. Alsop, the Baltimore Symphony’s music director-designate, is not an instinctive Brahmsian. She doesn’t bring out the great granite-cliff vistas and dizzying perspective shifts, which are always balanced by sweeter, lighter dancing elements. One element points toward Bruckner, the second toward Dvořák: You need to bring out both. Still, Alsop is looking for a personal way into these familiar pieces, and she often finds it. The London Philharmonic, which has played a lot of Brahms since its founding by Sir Thomas Beecham in 1934, has all the lushness in the strings one could hope for, and it makes up in heart what it lacks in precision. (That has generally been true of British orchestras.) The best choice, for me, is still the Berlin Philharmonic under Karajan or, even better, the Columbia Symphony under Bruno Walter. Yet there are pleasures in the London’s Third and in the spritely Haydn Variations, the second part of this Naxos release.



Tim Smith
The Baltimore Sun, January 2007

Alsop's Brahms cycle with the London Philharmonic has given her a chance to document her ideas about the standard symphonic repertoire that still counts heavily in the evaluation of any conductor. The first two products, Symphony No. 1 and No. 2, both released in 2005, were certainly respectable but rather ordinary in terms of interpretation and, especially in the finales, somewhat short on ear-grabbing electricity. With No. 3, however, Alsop seems to have moved into a higher gear. The Third Symphony, which has something of the dark edge of the First and something of the tender poetry of the Second, can be an elusive work to conduct. Leonard Bernstein (one of Alsop's mentors) aimed for profundity by slowing down most of the piece to a crawl; some emphasize softer edges in the score, to the detriment of the power. Alsop opts for a middle ground but avoids a middle-of-the-road performance. Right from the first measures, she has the music churning mightily, and the playing by the Londoners reveals real weight and vigor. Other approaches, particularly made by conductors from eras long past, have put extra emphasis on certain notes or stretched tempos a fraction to make a deeper, more drama-laden point in that first movement, but Alsop still gets the forcefulness of the music across. She has the blood pumping just as strongly in the finale, complemented by a lyrical touch that makes the gradual slowing and quieting in the coda quite communicative. The two movements in between are warmly, if less interestingly, shaped. The Philharmonic's polished efforts carry over into the Haydn Variations, sensitively molded by Alsop. The result is glowing music-making, rich in character and atmosphere.



Andy Cooper
Leader-Post, January 2007

When German music lover and entrepreneur Klaus Heymann launched his budget label Naxos in 1987 with largely unknown artists, few would have predicted it would become the world’s biggest classical music company.

Here we are 20 years later and the cheap-CD outfit which musical snobs once sneered at boasts the world’s greatest orchestras and soloists…Amazing…this third release in American conductor Marin Alsop’s acclaimed interpretations of the four symphonies of Johannes Brahms is an example of the star power of Naxos.

As well as Brahms’s “Symphony No. 3” there is the “Variations on a Theme by Haydn, St. Antoni Chorale.”

The playing of the London Philharmonic Orchestra is first class, and after a cautious start, Alsop’s reading of the symphony grows on you. The “Variations” are given a straight, unfussy performance.

The recording is full-bodied and spacious.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2007

Marin Alsop’s view of the Third Symphony never steps between the composer and the listener, the phrasing naturally evolving from the music’s pulse, with the lyrical aspects leading to long flowing lines. There is drama to be found here, but it is essentially an approach redolent with the warmth that is used to create glowing orchestral colours. Those brought up in the Germanic tradition of Brahms may find it a little lightweight in texture, yet it comes to my ears like a breath of fresh spring air, gladly ridden of all portentousness. I particularly enjoy the affection she brings to the slow movement and the spring in the gait of the finale. Dynamic contrasts are perfectly graded, the internal balance of the orchestra so well judged. Though I love the whole performance, there is even better to come in the St. Antoni Chorale Variations. Alsop points to so many details that usually go unnoticed, though the very word ‘points’ could mislead, for here the music flows without exaggeration, once again simply offering the score free of personal intervention. It seems the LPO enjoyed playing for her, as throughout the disc they are on top form, while the engineers complement the performances with unfussy but cleanly delineated sound, the bass end of the orchestral unusually fulsome. The catalogue is rather overcrowded with recordings of the Third and I gladly add this one to my list of recommended versions.



Robert Levine
Amazon.com, January 2007

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 Dvořák 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.



Scott Morrison
Amazon.com, January 2007

A Fine Brahms ‘Third’ with Subtle Direction, Great Playing and Clear, Warm Sound 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 motto 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. One can even hear the contrabassoon in its important contribution to the final movement; it is so often barely audible if at all in other recordings. Alsop apparently has a special affinity for this symphony. Certainly her management of dynamics and tempo adjustments is superior to that in her recording of the First. In the pastoral Second which, by the way, is a superior recording, she doesn’t have much opportunity to manage the alternation of dramatic and lyrical passages, but here in the Third she makes much of these contrasts. Although it is often passed over by music lovers in favor of the more consistently dramatic First and Fourth, the Third is my favorite Brahms symphony largely because of its subtle mixture of lyrical and dramatic impulses as well as its spectacularly thought-out construction which continually rewards deep study. Alsop does not let me down here. As I write this it has become one of my favorite recordings along with those of Bruno Walter, Bernard Haitink and Claudio Abbado. The filler is the ubiquitous Haydn Variations, given an unexceptionable and sonically warm reading.



Scott Paulin
Barnes & Noble, January 2007

With half of a highly praised Brahms cycle already in release, Marin Alsop and the London Philharmonic move on to an equally fine performance of the Third Symphony on this album. In a recording career that has focused primarily on the 20th century—and on American music—Alsop’s interest in Brahms might seem like an anomaly. Yet his Romantic symphonies clearly appeal to an equally important side of her artistic persona, considering how successful the results have been thus far. At the heart of this performance is an especially warm reading of the third-movement Poco Allegretto, a leisurely substitute for the usual symphonic Scherzo. Alsop and her musicians, especially the solo horn player, capture the ambiguity of Brahms’s tone in this movement—somewhere between melancholy, nostalgia, and romantic longing—and are equally convincing in the propulsive rhythms and broadly heroic themes of the outer movements. The charming Variations on a Theme by Haydn make for an appealing contrast after the symphony’s subdued ending. Alsop brings this work’s details into perfect focus, demonstrating a superb ear for balance in the opening wind-section scoring of the theme and discerning the multiple layers of orchestral color in many of the following variations. With one more symphony to go, this series is clearly a key achievement in Alsop’s career, but it’s also a Brahms cycle to treasure






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