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CD Review

Johannes Brahms

Symphonies, Volume 3

  • Symphony #3 in F Major
  • Variations on a Theme by Haydn "St. Antoni Chorale"
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Marin Alsop
Naxos 8.557430
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This is volume 3 in Alsop's ongoing Brahms symphony cycle. The two previous issues, the First Symphony, coupled with the two Overtures, and the Second, coupled with a selection of Hungarian Dances, were both reasonably successful. This latest one clearly surpasses them, and would suggest that Alsop is improving as the cycle continues. In the end, this just could end up as one of the most important Brahms symphony sets available, since even the first two issues had their strong points.

The Third, a repertory staple to be sure, has nonetheless been viewed by many as a sort of black sheep of the Brahms four. Its quiet ending and generally good-natured, angst-free manner have conspired to undermine its sense of importance. But it is as inspired a work as its siblings, and Alsop's performance here makes an excellent case for the piece. Her tempos are middle-of-the-road, though one might argue she's a bit on the leisurely side in the first movement, but takes a somewhat brisker course thereafter. In any event, her tempos and phrasing work nicely throughout and she draws fine playing from the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Among more recent Brahms Thirds, this would be the one I would probably reach for. In the past, I have found Walter, Doráti and Wand to be most compelling in this symphony, and for that matter in the others. Alsop can stand proudly beside them with this splendidly-conceived and – played Third.

The Haydn Variations, a work of similar demeanor, are given an excellent reading as well. Fine sound on both works, too. Naxos continually expands its roster of talent, and Alsop must now be considered one of their more important artists, someone whom we certainly want to hear more from. The Brahms Fourth is eagerly awaited. I have received no information on April's releases from Naxos. I'm not sure if this is a sign this generally innovative label is pulling back in some way, but I can only hope all is well there. Anyway, get this excellent disc of the Brahms Third and Haydn Variations.

Copyright © 2007, Robert Cummings