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on 5 November 2014
These are performances that make you sit up and question if you have ever really heard these works before.......
no matter how well you think you know them.
They are bursting with glorious playing and part writing I have not noticed before... and the energy and forward
propulsion are breath taking.
All the praise that has been heaped upon this issue is fully deserved.
Sadly, I had an issue with one of the discs .... by the supplier - david76297 - gave the best customer care I have come across for a very long time.
Do not hesitate to buy this set ....no matter how many Brahms Symphony Cycles you have.
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on 4 October 2017
After reading all the hype I was really expecting something very different from what I heard here. Admittedly the version that I had before was Von Karajan and the Berlin Symphony Orchestra so probably I was naïve in my expectations - it is almost the same interpretation! But I did expect that at least I would get the symphonies in sequence .Instead disc 1 we have symphonies 1and 3 and disc 2 symphonies 2 and 4 - like the Karajan version, but that had been transposed from records in the 70's!
In short if you have Karajan save your money.
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on 7 October 2013
The long awaited 'new' set of the Brahms symphonies from Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra are finally here! Having lived with them for a fortnight now I can confirm the wait has been well worth it. Of course, one takes the musical and technical virtuosity of the orchestra for granted but, here, the Gewandhaus Orchestra surpass themselves.

So what of Chailly? Well, the generic word that comes to mind regarding tempi is 'flowing'. The days of heavy, glutinous Brahms is, hopefully, a thing of the past and most 'modern' conductors such as Rattle and the younger Chailly refuse to get stuck in the mud whilst eating suet pudding after a heavy roast beef dinner!

There is also passion aplenty at climaxes, notably the first movement of the Fourth Symphony and the end of the Second Symphony. There is glory aplenty in the First Symphony with perhaps the most moving solo oboe and violin playing I have ever heard in this beautiful movement. The Third Symphony, possibly the most difficult of the four to bring to life, is here given a truly golden performance where the third movement really glows.

The 'extras' are terrific too. The 'Haydn' Variations are given lots of character (another difficult work to both play and conduct) and there are little extras such as Brahms's first thoughts to the very beginning of the Fourth Symphony. A few seconds to be sure but a tiny insight into this most meticulous of composers working methods.

The presentation is, as one would expect from Decca, first rate with excellent notes and photos. If this appeals, don't hesitate.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 9 July 2015
I can report that if this disc won't play, the fault is NOT with your Blu-Ray player.
The first batch of Blu-Rays were faulty,
but Decca re-mastered it to correct the problem.
Unfortunately some defective discs are still on the market - as I found out.
I have been the proud owner of both.
From the packaging, there is no way to tell them apart (though the good one had a sticker marked "Made in France" on the cellophane).
When you load the disc you will get one of two Menus.
Each Menu splits the screen into two halves:

-- on the left side of the BAD MENU is the photo of Ricardo Chailly from the cover.
Underneath it are the words:
"PURE AUDIO FORMAT"
-- on the left of the GOOD MENU is the same photo of Ricardo Chailly.
Underneath it are the words
"PURE AUDIO FORMAT"
"2.0 pcm 24-bit/96Khz / 2.0 dolby trueHD 24-bit/96Khz"

-- on the right side of the BAD MENU are the words "Johannes Brahms 1833-1897".
Underneath it is a blank screen.
-- on the right of the GOOD MENU are the words "Johannes Brahms 1833-1897".
Underneath it are the words:
"THE SYMPHONIES - ORCHESTRAL WORKS"
"Symphony No.1 in C minor, op.62"
"Symphony No.2 in D major, op.73"
"Symphony No.3 in F major, op.90"
"Symphony No.4 in E minor, op.98"
"Orchestral works"

It's not uncommon to find ordinary CDs remastered at "24-bit/96 kHz", but the CD medium is incapable of accurately reproducing everything on the master.
Compromises are made in the conversion to CD.
You need SACD or Blu-Ray Audio to realize the full potential of the original master tape.
The only real advantage Blu-Ray Audio has over the older SACD technology is a longer playing time - The Chailly Brahms Blu-Ray plays for 3 hours, 54 minutes.
My only complaint about the Blu-Ray is that it is two channels.
An alternate 5.1 Surround mix would have been nice.
Perhaps Chailly is a purist.

You don't need a special Blu-Ray Audio player.
Blu-Ray Audio plays on any Blu-Ray Video player.
Keep the video output connected to your TV to read the disc menu.
Connect the audio to your Hi-Fi system.
------------------------------------------------------

Riccardo Chailly is the only conductor to have recorded ALL of Brahms' orchestral music.
The Four Symphonies, two Overtures and Variations on a Theme of Haydn have been recorded hundreds of times.
To these Chailly has added some RARITIES:

-- Liebeslieder Waltzes Op.52, No.1,2,4,5,6,8,9,11 and Op.65, No.9
In 1868, Brahms composed 18 waltzes for vocal quartet accompanied by piano four-hands.
The following year he orchestrated nine (for orchestra alone - no singers).
Also recorded by Gary Bertini/Vienna Symphony and Thomas Dausgaard/Swedish Chamber Orchestra.

-- Two Intermezzi for Piano: Op.116, No.4 and Op.117, No.1 - ONLY RECORDING
This is a ringer - Not orchestrated by Brahms.
Orchestrated by Paul Klengel (1854-1935), a German conductor and composer who was a friend of Brahms
(the notes don't say when Klengel orchestrated them, or if Brahms approved).

-- Symphony 1: Original version of the Second Movement
This version of the second movement Andante premiered in 1876 with the rest of the Symphony, but before publication Brahms dropped five bars and added some transition material.
This is the second recording of the original version - Charles Mackerras was first, with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

-- Symphony 4: Revised opening to the First Movement - ONLY RECORDING
Some time after the premiere, Brahms added four bars to the opening of the First Movement, but quickly changed his mind.
The Symphony was never performed this way.
These introductory bars are over in a mere eight seconds, but Decca allots it 46 seconds.
Brahms based his introduction on the final bars of the same movement), so the first movement now begins and ends with the same music.
To illustrate this, the track opens with the final bars of the First Movement (13 seconds),
then after a brief pause, you hear the new introduction (8 seconds) leading directly into the familiar First Movement (which fades away after 15 seconds).
I don't much care for it, but may feel differently after I've heard it a few hundred times.
I think it would have made a better impression if Decca had included two complete performances of the first movement - with and without the introduction - instead of just a fragment for the revised opening.

This is the only recording of the revised opening of Symphony 4.
Back in the 1960s, it was featured during the intermission of a Cleveland Orchestra radio broadcast.
George Szell was interviewed and the orchestra performed the music.
I'm not sure if Szell or his assistant Louis Lane conducted.
It would be nice to have as part of a future "George Szell Edition".
I found a recording if it: see Comment One (dated March 7, 2017)

-- Hungarian Dances No. 1, 3 and 10
Not exactly rarities, but not usually included with the symphonies.
Brahms composed 21 Hungarian Dances for piano duet in the 1860s, and orchestrated these three in 1874 (other composers orchestrated the rest)
------------------------------------------------------

Chailly also provides spirited performances of the Four Symphonies, two Overtures and Haydn Variations, but here the competition is fierce.
My all-time stereo favorites are Otto Klemperer/Philharmonia Orchestra (recorded 1954-1957) and Bruno Walter/Columbia Symphony (recorded 1959-1960).
I am a sucker for Nineteenth Century conductors conducting Nineteenth Century music.
Otto Klemperer (born 1885) was twelve years old when Brahms died.
Bruno Walter (born 1876) was 21.
Both lived long enough to record Brahms in decent stereo.
Klemperer is Grand and Majestic.
Walter is Warm and Comforting.

Klemperer: Otto Klemperer- Brahms: Symphonies / Overtures / Deutsches Requiem
Walter: Bruno Walter conducts Brahms [Box Set]

Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra recorded Brahms' two Serenades a year later.
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on 7 October 2013
Some people think that Brahms was an unfeeling reactionary. With his beard, paunch and pipe, he certainly looks anything but cut and thrust. Schoenberg, on the other hand, called him the 'progressive'. And it's in that radical spirit that Chailly and the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig perform his finest orchestral works on this new three-disc set.

Chailly puts into action what he describes as Brahms's 'new universe of sound', the complexity of which 'is even above Mahler and Bruckner'. Certainly Chailly is keen to let us hear those layers, though he's also unstinting in delivering real emotion impact. This is Brahms the true Romantic and the proto-Modernist.

It is well known that Brahms struggled even to start his First Symphony, let alone complete it, so haunted was he by the enormity of following in Beethoven's footsteps. He eventually overcame those doubts and instead flaunted the Austro-Germanic symphonic heritage in the C minor-major dialectic of the work. Following their own recent survey of Beethoven, Chailly and the Gewandhausorchester bring fresh attack to Brahms's homage. Chailly errs on the fast, though it pay dividends. Underpinned by tenacious timpani, the first movement presents a gripping struggle.

The middle movements are naturally more relaxed, though the first movement's tenacity comes through again in the chorale in the Andante and the third movement's budding premonitions of glory. Answering that foretaste, the Finale does not disappoint. Following a full-voiced horn call - with more than a dose of Siegfried - the C major theme has both nobility and resolve (so different from Jansons' recent back-footed approach). Throughout we're treated to lavish sound and gritty determination which then boil over in a thrilling coda.

The beginning of the Second Symphony will always appear more mute than its predecessor, yet the Gewandhausorchester's performance is no wallflower. The strings bring real snap to dotted rhythms, as well as beautiful line, with exquisite woodwind solos and richly voiced brass choruses. Chailly's constant attention to dynamic detail reaps further emotional rewards, while the crescendos show the strength of purpose that was evident in the First Symphony.

That force brims to the surface again in the Adagio, pushing towards a brisker Andante, before Chailly and the orchestra offer release in the graceful-cum-spirited third movement. Upping the theatrical ante again, Chailly begins the Finale with a daring whisper, laying the groundwork for later thrills, which deliver a baroque sense of occasion.

There's equal grandness and import about the way in which Chailly opens the Third Symphony - perhaps the finest performance in the set - imbuing its string arpeggios and clarinet flourishes with real panache. But there's heart here too, coming through in the lower strings' intense minor melody. More hesitant emotions characterise the slow movement, before these again build to something more potent. Some may prefer a more relaxed reading, though Chailly's zeal is certainly infectious.

More apposite to Chailly's emotional approach is the third movement, where the orchestra delivers each suspension like a painful memory. The little breaths and hesitations in the reprise of the Allegretto particularly tell, before the forces launch into a particularly staggering performance of the Finale - all barbed syncopations and staggering trumpet salvos - boiling over with thrilling ferocity, trumping even the most conflicted passages of the First Symphony. But there's hope here too and after Chailly has driven a particularly fierce bargain, that optimism weaves through the rapt coda.

At first that tension appears to have abated in the Fourth Symphony, feeling a little on the hasty side, leaving us unsure as to whether this performance will embrace both the Romantic and the Bachian. The strings are as lustrous as in any of the other Symphonies, but you may wander whether a little more space here and the frisson Abbado brings to the return of the first subject would reap more significant insights. Here Chailly's instincts don't feel completely right.

The tenderness and emotional truths of the other performances in this set, however, emerge again in the Andante, not least in the cello's heart-on-sleeve theme, performed with great warmth. And the third movement is a real riot of orchestral colour, proffering a wonderful trigger to the Finale, where the tensions Chailly has so keenly maintained across the cycle are born out in the struggles and glories of the Passacaglia.

Here we are given both sense of purpose and something more heart-rending, building to a tumultuous conclusion. The journey undertaken on this superb new set may, of course, not be to everyone's taste. It is certainly an intense ride, favouring up-front emotion instead of a more muted commentaries. But Chailly clearly sees Brahms as a fervent Romantic and one presaging the even more torrid language of his successors.

Added to which Decca provides a 'bonus' disc featuring a rich and noble rendition of the Haydn Variations, an oh-so-brooding Tragic Overture, lilting Liebeslieder Waltzes and a handful of other beautiful performed miniatures. With Klemperer, Karajan, Abbado, Haitink and a host of other greats in the library, Chailly and the Gewandhausorchester may have serious competition on their hands, but few other sets bring the progressive and highly emotional Brahms so brilliantly to life.
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on 12 October 2014
I am a great 'fan' of Chailly and his superb Leipzig orchestra, particularly in Mahler symphonies - he seems to becoming more and more authoritative with each release - particularly with the quite superlative audio provided by those Blu-rays from Accentus (read Ian Giles wonderfully informative review of the Mahler 5). However Decca have issued two different versions of the Chailly Brahms. I have the Blu-ray 'pure audio' version. What a disappointment technically. First, there are 2 versions which, when decoded are identical - Dolby lossless HD & PCM 24 bit 2.0 - having both is a waste of the huge capacity of Blu-ray audio, meaning stereo only, no multichannel version. Also the 'pure audio' system should allow full control of the playback using the remote only - this is not possible on this issue. Sound is not particularly special, either. Blu-rays of same team playing Mahler on Accentus represent probably the best audio of any recordings I have heard, are multichannel or stereo and have HD video also.

I am not yet sure about the musical side of things - perhaps Ian Giles could give an authoritative comment. Personally, the Toscanini /Phlharmonia live recordings of the symphonies (London Royal Festival Hall, early 1950s) are still my favourites, despite being mono and much coughing in the audience. Release now on Testament delayed many years are there are errors in the trombones (apparently scared of Toscanini) and firecrackers let off - I wonder why? Musically lyrical and warm - see excellent review of 3 CD set on Amazon UK.
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on 13 October 2013
As with all complete sets of symphonies, quartets, sonatas or whatever, it's usually possible to find better performances elsewhere of any individual piece. Kleiber's famous recording of the fourth with the VPO is still, I suppose, the best, and I like Harnoncourt in the second; perhaps Chailly could've taken a few more risks in the finales of nos. 2 and 3, where I miss the spontaneity of Furtwangler. Nonetheless, everything presented here is very very fine indeed, and I would say that this recording of the first symphony is probably the best on record.

On the whole, then, this is at the very least the most recommendable complete digital version. The orchestral sound is lithe, textures are incredibly clear, and the preparation was obviously meticulous. Each work unfolds in a way that leaves you in no doubt that the conductor has thought about it carefully over many years. I noticed details in the scoring that I hadn't before, or that hadn't been given their proper place in performances I'd heard to date. Yet nothing's exaggerated; there's no obvious micromanaging of the kind that can sometimes marr Harnoncourt's conducting, or any 'left of field' tempi or sonorities a la Gardiner. The detail is the result of careful thought, a virtuoso orchestra properly rehearsed, and a conductor who knows and loves the music and knows what he's doing. It's perhaps worth adding that the transcriptions of the Liebeslieder and piano pieces are hugely enjoyable too.
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on 1 October 2014
The first thing to say is that this recording sounds tremendous, thanks both to wonderfully lucid engineering that allows you to hear almost everything and to the sound of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Those who heard the orchestra at the 2014 Proms will not be surprised to be told this. The principal oboe plays ravishingly, if with rather a lot of notes not fully centred in pitch. The next thing to say is that these are among the fastest Brahms symphonies on record; in six well-known cycles for which I have the timings, Chailly is the quickest in ten of the sixteen movements, allowing for the fact that he takes the first-movement repeats. My guess is that this approach stems from Chailly’s recent encounters with Beethoven, in which he has adopted a Rattle-like approach “informed” by “period style”. Those who dislike Brahms’s epic seriousness will probably approve, and the results are certainly bracing. The first movement of the Second Symphony sounds as if it is being done in one-in-a-bar, and the Third in two-in-a-bar. For me much of it is too rushed, and I felt at the end of several movements as if I had been jostled and harried along. The end of the First Symphony is an undignified sprint. The woodwind sound distinctly flurried in the second subject of the Third. The slow movement of the Second is lightweight; indeed the 12/8 section sounds like light music by Elgar. The third movement of the Third is very beautiful indeed (a fabulous diminuendo at one point), and the driving tempo of the finale is convincing, but there is insufficient relaxation into the sunlit glow of the ending. Here and elsewhere the music risks sounding perfunctory. Some will like this very much, but I’d be sorry to think that the influence of the so-called “authenticists” meant that we were no longer allowed to find depth and repose in Brahms. After that, the Fourth is unexpected, an intimate performance, played almost as chamber music. Even the great ending to the first movement doesn’t really catch fire and it certainly can’t be compared with Carlos Kleiber’s famous version in that respect.
The fill-ups – the three standard orchestral fillers, plus orchestrations of Hungarian Dances, some of the Liebeslieder Waltzes and two of the late piano pieces, as well as original versions of the opening of the Fourth Symphony (a 45-second track which is completely baffling unless you have read the booklet) and the slow movement of the First – are again good to listen to, but I can’t imagine listening to those orchestrations often, especially of the piano pieces which sound unrecognisable.
Throughout the set the playing is as precise in ensemble as any I have heard (Brahms’s rhythmic contrasts between twos and threes are amazingly clear), and even the exposed top violin notes are never ugly. These are impressive achievements, though it is easier to get the ensemble tight when a conductor allows as little flexibility as Chailly.
Brahms’s symphonies are probably open to a wider range of interpretation than most Romantic symphonists, and there is most certainly not one single right way of doing them. Chailly’s is obviously an important Brahms cycle, and it is very stimulating to hear, but these are not “central” interpretations.
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on 10 October 2015
I have always had a bit of a problem with 'old-style' Brahms performances - listening to recordings in vain for details I could see plainly in the scores. Granted, some of this could have been due to limitations of earlier recording techniques (and my playback equipment), but even live performances seemed to be infected by the desire to make Brahms' orchestration 'sepia', rather than 'coloured'. Here at last we have a set of performances that show Brahms' orchestration in full colour - and what a glorious revelation it is. But there is much more here than just the 'sound of the sound' - combined with Chailly's imaginative and authoritative interpretations, a top-notch orchestra and excellent recording, at times it almost feels like discovering a new composer! There are other reviewers who point out issues they have with the set, but these seem slight when compared with the many glories on offer from these fresh-sounding performances. I have other recordings of these works, but this set now takes pride of place. Highly recommended.
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on 29 April 2015
First of all the recording. I had the CDs but was tempted by the low price of the blu ray on Amazon market place - less than I paid for the 3 CDs, which I shall now pass on or sell. The sound is definitely preferable and I had no problems getting it to play through my cheap Sony blu ray player and the DAC of my SACD player. Stereo only, which is fine for me. As for the performances - my favourite conductors of Brahms treat it like Beethoven rather than Mahler or Elgar. So I like Jochum in general and Bruno Walter in the 3rd (awful when taken too slowly). Chailly is generally slightly faster than Jochum (EMI) though the latter was very fast with the BPO on DG. The result is bracing in the louder and faster passages, which is good, and yet they perform the slower or quieter sections with great beauty. Chailly's approach is excellent in the 3rd, as good as Walter's, and if the 2nd is supposed to be too fast it is worth noting that it is only a tiny bit longer overall than Haitink (LSO). So ignore the negative reviews and enjoy!
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