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Penguin Guide, January 2009

Recorded in vivid sound in the Blackheath Concert Hall, with vivid separation heightening the impact of Marin Alsop’s clear and direct interpretation, this stands high among recent recordings of the Fourth Symphony…the bonus Hungarian Dances come in new arrangements by Peter Breiner that are very successful indeed.

George Dorris
Ballet Review, December 2008

…this series, the symphony, which nobly served Massine for Choreartium, gets a strong, effecting reading, as do the dances, freshly orchestrated by Peter Breiner, making this an attractive disc…

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, June 2008

With this release, Marin Alsop completes her Brahms symphony cycle with the London Philharmonic for Naxos. Her First Symphony received a lukewarm, qualified recommendation from me, and an even less enthusiastic review by James Reel, both in 28:6. Her Second Symphony, reviewed in 29:4, I judged an outright disaster. Her Third Symphony, reviewed in 30:6, saw a 180­degree turnaround, with Alsop turning in one of the finest recent performances of the work I know. Her Fourth, even more so than her Third, capitalizes on Alsop’s great strength as a conductor, which is her ability to deconstruct and reconstruct the architectonics of a symphonic work over long spans of time. This is a crucial asset in Brahms’s Fourth Symphony, the large structure of which deconstructs into melodies and harmonies built from essentially two intervals, descending thirds and their inversion, ascending sixths, a veritable geodesic dome in music.

This is a new Brahms Fourth to be reckoned with. It is cogent and coherent, which lends gathering weight and portent to its inevitable apocalyptic ending. In a previous review of Brahms’s Fourth with Daniel Harding and the German Chamber Philharmonic of Bremen on Virgin Classics, I spoke of the despair of the first movement, the tragic tread of the second movement, the frenzied hysteria of the third, and the final rush to oblivion of the fourth on the symphony’s preordained appointment with disaster and annihilation. Like Harding, Marcus Bosch with the Aachen Symphony Orchestra, and Giulini with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on EMI, Alsop brings formidable force to bear on the score in an extremely powerful, magnificently played, and stunningly recorded performance of the work.

The seven Hungarian Dances that fill out the disc are charming and an added bonus, but even if the CD contained only the symphony, it would be worth having. Urgently recommended.

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, February 2008

Finely played, well argued, intelligently and sympathetically directed, a little lacking in fire…A good, intelligent and thoughtful performance at a can’t-argue price bracket.

Richard Osborne
Gramophone, February 2008

Marin Alsop brings her excellent budget Brahms cycle to a close

The LPO, London’s finest Brahms ensemble, has been in vintage form during this cycle under Marin Alsop’s measured and thoughtful direction. Not since the classically incisive Loughran/Hallé recordings of the mid-1970s has there been a more obviously collectable budget-price Brahms set, though Sanderling’s celebrated 1970s Dresden cycle is currently a formidable three-CD budget­price competitor.

Alsop’s reading of the Fourth Symphony is not dissimilar to Sir Adrian Boult’s 1972 LPO recording (EMI—nla). Like Boult, Alsop is happy to establish a tempo and emotional trajectory for each movement and leave it at that—a plausible view given the astonishing degree of thematic integration that underpins the work.

As elsewhere in the cycle, tempi tend to be measured. The Andante moderato is downright slow, though like Reiner and Barbirolli before her Alsop manages to maintain line and interest. The Scherzo, happily, is a true Allegro giocoso, which is important. By acting out the role of a conventional finale, the Scherzo leaves the actual finale free to enact its own tragic destiny.

Sparer-toned performances heedful of Brahms’s marking Allegro energico e passionato (Mengelberg on Naxos Historical, Toscanini on RCA, Klemperer on EMI, Karajan variously) spell out the finale’s tragic mood from the first. Others (Furtwängler, Barbirolli, Sanderling) have taken broader tempi then manoeuvred the orchestra freely towards the tragic summation. Carlos Kleiber, famously, got the best of both worlds.

The Blackheath recording sounds well if played at a decent level. In the Scherzo, the triangle (deliciously placed and recorded in the Hungarian Dances ) is more an impression than a presence. There is also an editing glitch midway through the movement, not the first in this series. The seven Hungarian Dances, unorchestrated by Brahms, are heard in newly commissioned orchestrations by Peter Breiner. I didn’t much care for the thudding fairground timpani in No 6. Elsewhere, piquancy is the watchword, with stylish playing from the LPO, gamesomely led.

Michael Southern
Australian Hi-Fi, November 2007

This disc completes Marin Alsop’s cycle of Brahms Symphonies for Naxos, and what a tour de force it has been. It is an incandescent performance of the fourth with great stature throughout and a particularly exciting finale. The Hungarian Dances make a perfect foil, and again these performances rate highly, but are up against one of the best recordings ever made of these works, the complete set by the Budapest Orchestra, also on Naxos. The LPO is in top form.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, October 2007

Conductor Marin Alsop is currently riding a well deserved wave of adulation, which is a bit of a novelty in the symphony music world, all the more so in Britain. This recording—as do indeed her other Brahms symphony recordings—deserves nothing but the highest praise. The arranged Hungarian Dances sound brighter than any other recordings of these over-exposed works.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2007

We have reached the final installment in Marin Alsop’s fresh faced cycle of the Brahms symphonies where there is nothing added and nothing taken away from the printed score. Her tempos seem to be self-selecting in the natural flow of the music, and with dynamics never slavishly adhered to, it is the shape of the music that dictates her approach. There is no false pretence at digging deep below the music’s surface, Alsop avoiding those mannerisms that are often described as insights. In the Fourth she brings out all of the drama present, while in the slow movement she benefits from the warmth and round tone of the LPO strings, the orchestra more suited to Brahms than any other present London ensemble. The opening movement unfolds without rushing, and by contrast I much enjoy the urgency and brilliance of the scherzo. Alsop’s finale full of Germanic intensity, but also infers a sense of sadness in the movement’s central section, the ending free of the brio many conductors superimpose on the music. Originally written for piano duet, Brahms subsequently orchestrated numbers 1, 3 and 10 from his first set of ten Hungarian Dances, and Naxos has commissioned the Czech composer, Peter Breiner, to orchestrate the remainder specially for this recording. In style he uses pastiche Brahms, tastefully realised with judicious use of percussion, and essentially for strings and woodwind. The two works were recorded at different venues with more reverberation for the dances and a gorgeously warm and detailed quality for the symphony. In sum this is a cycle you will always return to with renewed pleasure.

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