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4.0 out of 5 stars Ah, at Last, Brahms' Delightful "Liebeslieder" Waltzes in Instrumental Garb, and the Symphonies as Well, and even More!, 24 Aug. 2014
This review is from: Brahms: The Symphonies (Audio CD)
I have longed, for many years, to find a CD of Johannes Brahms' own orchestral arrangement for orchestra of excerpts (to perform with or, better, without voices) from his two sets of the "Liebeslieder" waltzes. Here is one, at last! For most buyers, the presence of these waltzes as "fillers" on a complete set of the composer's symphonies would be a mere detail. For me, those waltzes are the very reason to obtain this set of the symphonies and various other music for, or arranged for, orchestra.

These dances work somewhat better as Brahms arranged them instrumentally for piano duo, but they delight best of all as recast for orchestra (without the option of having voices to sing along). Decades ago, Boyd Neel made an LP disc that included these waltzes. I kept it for many years, indeed, still have it somewhere lost in my basement.

Never have I heard any vocal recording of these waltzes that really satisfies me, although, strangely enough, some choral performances of these dances tend to fare better than renditions by solo classical vocalists do so. The singing, on any of the recordings, just is too heavy-going, with viscous textures resulting which are unsuited to these fluffy and utterly beguiling dance melodies. The almost disconcertingly light and airy textures of the orchestration which Brahms himself provided as this particular option for instrumental performance would seem to point to the advisability of rendering these waltzes with something less than rotundly galumphing overemphasis. If they are to be sung, what really is required is fine voices of quite another kind than of the usual operatic heavy artillery, but rather of impeccable musicianship, yes, but of non-classical timbre and of less density as well. How about, for a celestial "would-be" recording, on featuring genuinely idiomatic operetta vocalists, as one alternative. Another would be with performers from the folk-revival or popular (even county-western) idioms. Such (trans-generational) vocal pop luminaries as Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, or Joan Baez, to take the upper female part, and like Roy Orbison, Ricky Skaggs, or Chris Isaac as tenor, could participate, and so it would go up and down the vocal registers of the vocal quartet's four voices, entailing vocalists who could sing the music just as Brahms himself composed it, but without the glutinous and cloying texture of the classically-formed voices which one hears in previous recordings of the work. Whether together they would attempt to sing in German or would resort to singing in English translation would leave me relatively indifferent. Such a line-up of vocalists together at one time, of course, only is going to happen "up there" in the Heavenly Realms, with Brahms himself looking on, listening with an appreciative smile.

Short of that, give me the composer's orchestral arrangements of some of those waltzes! Well, Riccardo Chailly now, and no longer perhaps only Boyd Neel so long ago, have done that. Goody! As for Brahms' four symphonies, I'll keep on listening to van Beinum's, Walter's, and Jochum's recordings conducting them, but this set will remain there on my shelves and in my CD player for the sake primarily (but not only) of these lovely waltzes!

Riccardo Chailly, too, is among the conductors whose work these days I savour, so I'll give a listen now and then, as well, to the rest of his Brahms orchestral CD set (even if Chailly's tempi and approach in some of Brahms' works on the set seem unnervingly peculiar in places), all the more since it is the Gewandhaus orchestra which Chailly conducts, the reputation of which had become more illustrious than ever in the early LP era under the direction of the great Franz Konwitschny, of blessèd memory. That ensemble remains one of the world's finest orchestras anywhere. Chailly is one of the few conductors nowadays worthy to lead such an exceptionally fine aggregate of musicians.
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