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4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars

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on 8 March 2017
This is a truly engaging rendition of Johannes Brahms's E minor Symphony: The high level of commitment and enthusiasm here clearly radiates from the baton of Carlos Kleiber and the dedicated playing of the Vienna Philharmonic. The 1980's digital sound reproduction is somewhat immediately balanced and well defined but suffers slightly from acrid string-tone. Nevertheless, a grand rendition of this remarkable symphony.
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on 10 August 2015
There are many recordings of this popular masterpiece, and the listener is spoiled for choice. But, Carlos Kleiber's version, I think, is one of the best - if not the very best - among the discs currently available.

The VPO's playing is finely nuanced, and the unanimity of attack is marvellous. Their sound is warm, but not indulgent.

The most striking aspect of the present version is the fourth movement (Allegro energico e passionato - piu Allegro); it is played truly energetically and passionately (in 9:16), faster than most other recent conductors' versions I have listened to so far. The tension gradually builds up and the work comes to an exciting finish.

The recording, made at Musikverein in Vienna in 1980, is of demonstration quality.

The only shortcoming of this CD is that the symphony, lasting less than 40 minutes, is the only one on the disc. DG could have added something else. Still, one cannot complain too much when the performance is so incandescent.
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on 19 May 2014
I have only recently acquired my own copy of this legendary recording. Since reading Jan Swafford's biography I am back into Brahms with a vengeance after a few years 'away' as it were.

And yes, I reckon this IS a great perfomance (and I have some other favourites of this symphony). There are too many individual magic moments to point out - even from the manner in which the strings play the opening theme in the first movement. The golden horns at the end of the Andante; the violin tremolandi as the finale reaches white heat; the occasional touches of expressive portamento from the strings, which here sound so natural and idiomatic; the clarity and precision of the phrasing, which is so clearly articulated yet never draws attention to itself.

But the performance is far more than just the sum of beautiful parts. As so many other reviewers have pointed out, it is unerringly proportioned (saving the really big sound for the moments when it's really needed) and combines a songful line with an intensity that rises to fervour in the codas of the first and last movements. I am not bothered that you only get 39 minutes of music on the CD as you cannot put a price on music-making of this quality.

My only slight caveat is that the string sound occasionally gets a bit fierce and glassy, to my ears at least. Would the LP have sounded like this when first released in 1980, or is this the result of re-mastering and transfer to CD? Whatever the truth, it is not a serious issue for me and doesn't detract from my five-star rating.
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on 12 August 2017
This is the most over-rated disk I've encountered. Penguin call it "gripping and compelling", but I've never found it so. There is some stature and strength in the outer movements, but even Penguin admit, "the violins sound somewhat shrill at fortissimo". I'd say, not "somewhat" shrill", but *unbearably* shrill. Penguin suggest it is, "at the opposite end of the scale from Walter's coaxingly lyrical approach". I agree! And I love Walter's version, which is my current benchmark. Walter has a freshness and warmth totally lacking in Kleiber, but maintains power and authority. I consigned this copy of Kleiber to the charity shop, and a few months later found the original there. So I gave Kleiber another chance, but found the same faults (so it's not a re-mastering problem.) I'm not always averse to dynamic approaches; I love Karajan's '63 set of Beethoven's symphonies. But this Kleiber, it's just too shrill, too forced, too harsh, with no lyrical beauty. Check out:Bruno Walter Conducts Brahms
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on 15 May 2005
At only 39 mins and 41 seconds, this might be thought to be short measure.
Until you hear the performance. Over the years I have tried a number of recordings of this symphony in an effort to find the work I can hear in my head. (Where did that come from?)
Some years ago I bought the Herbert Blomstedt recording on Decca: far too low voltage! I bought Eugen Jochum's, along with Tennstedt's recording of Ein Deutches Requiem. Worth it for the Requiem, but Jochum always pulls the tempi about a bit, and ultimately I felt his performance didn't quite measure up.
The 1972 Boult recording, with Janet Baker's incandescent performance of the Alto Rhapsody, came nearest. At least Boult gets the right voltage for the finale.
Carlos Kleiber has the Vienna Philharmonic which, as you would expect, outmatches Boult's LPO, good though they are. But he also has factor "X" - that deeper undertanding of this ultimately tragic symphony - which, for me, places this performance right out at the top.
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on 6 September 2009
I heard this performance a good while ago but for some reason it didn't get to me. I have listened again recently and I can't imagine why not. In fact I can't imagine a greater performance of this symphony anymore. It's so well played, with every part of the orchestra singing and involved but clearly articulated. However the thing that distinguishes the performance is the grasp of structure and overall balance. The effect of the playing and the conducting is an almost volcanic energy and sweep that is really unsurpassed in the many recordings and performances of this symphony that I have heard. It's shattering and exhausting. Somehow when you hear this it seems so obvious that this is one of the greatest pieces of music ever written, and the most complete of the four Brahms wrote.
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This disc, now successfully remastered form a 1981 digital original, has always been ranked as among the very finest of recent generations. It is always a doubtful idea to suggest that any one performance of such core repertoire is a definitive performance / recording as at that level personal preferences bring inevitable personal prejudices and inevitable conflict. Such a situation is not helpful to collectors or other interested parties.

Brahms wrote this work at the end of his life. It is normal practice to consider him as one of the most important figures of the Romantic period but this view can be open to question when considering the emphasis he placed on structural content of his work, his detailed use of Classical compositional devices and relatively restrained use of the orchestra that he had at his disposal. There is also a marked lack of narrative or nationalist interest beyond his Hungarian dances. The Hungarian elements to be found in his other works are part of the structure and not generally the main focus.

All of this has been mentioned because it is in the Classical period sense that the listener can best appreciate Kleiber's interpretation/performance with the VPO. This is a very strong delivery of the music with enormous emphasis on the structure. Indeed, it could be described as a very tough-minded view with little evidence of softening or yielding to allow for any Romantic period moulding of the lines or of the emotions. The last movement in this performance thus is a study in the delivery of a strictly formal structure placed as the conclusion of a determined and logical musical journey. This is a plan that would be recognisable in any Classical composer, Beethoven springs readily to mind, and is quite foreign even to the early Romantics such as Mendelssohn, Schubert and Schumann. Emotional satisfaction, not to be confused with Romanticism, is thus achieved by unflinching formal Classical means.

This is a strikingly formal, even austere, account of the symphony and as such, it stands apart from the rest. There will be those who resist its Classical progress just as there will be those who find it uniquely rewarding and totally appropriate.

Whatever one's personal response, I would suggest that this disc remains one of the great artistic and recorded achievements of its generation. Owning it will enhance and broaden one's understanding and therefore it deserves to be seriously considered as a strong candidate for purchase.
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on 21 July 2010
I agree with the reviewers above, I too long searched for a recording of this work that fitted my idea of what it should be, now I have truly found it. Kleiber brings a masterful performance. I was won over by the phrasing of the strings in the first movement; beautiful but not overly sentimental.

In my view this symphony above all others needs a tightly held performance or else as with some of my lesser recordings it starts to lose it's shape. This one ticks all the boxes though, and has superb sound too, with slightly bright strings (just as I like them). It's true there should be more on the disc than just this symphony, but don't let that put you off what I see as a definitive recording.

My Brahms symphonic collection of great recordings feels finally complete, with Wand's 1st (1990) and Karajan's 2 and 3 (1964) this record again for me is another disc that is unlikely to be bettered.
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on 23 July 2014
Take a great symphonic work add Carlos klieber and the Vienna Philharmonic and you have a brilliant historic recording of true importance. As with most of Klieber`s interpretations the tempos are taken fast but with total control and musical conviction, astounding orchestral balance with an exhilarating performance. Don`t concern that this is the only offering on the one disc as it is well worth the purchase and shows this great work in a new light from a master musician and despite more up to date versions this recording is unique and sets a standard of excellence.
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on 17 January 2015
I have several versions of the 4th symphony.

Without any doubt at all, this is the greatest version of all.

This is like a ray of sunshine and your hi fi will enjoy playing it as much as you will enjoy listening to it.

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