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Otto Klemperer/Janet Baker/Philharmonia Orchestra
BRAHMS: THE FOUR SYMPHONIES, ETC.
(EMI)

Klempererís traversal of the Brahms symphonies is one of the greatest such cycles ever set down on tape. These recordings have rarely been unavailable to the music-buying public, so thereís no great need for this reissue; still, it can claim a deserved place in EMIís "Great Recordings of the Century" series. All four symphonies show off Klempererís ability to shape a work with absolute solidity but make it move and sing as well. And then thereís the famously "granite-like" sonority (with divided violins) of the Philharmonia under his baton, a sound that commanded attention for its own sake but also set off its glorious soloists in high relief. Among the many highlights here: the entire First Symphony, a great combination of toughness, lyricism, and architectural precision; a beautifully lyrical Second, with a deeply felt slow movement; a Third thatís full of forward momentum and sheer swing. The Fourth is a slight disappointment; it feels more like a run-through than a committed performance. In compensation, thereís the Alto Rhapsody, Brahmsís extraordinary setting of a Goethe fragment that moves from painful isolation to the hope for transcendence, with the incomparable Janet Baker and an accompaniment thatís ideal.

BY DAVID WEININGER


Issue Date: October 29 - November 4, 2004
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