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Karajan’s performances of these 4 Brahms Symphonies were recorded in analogue between October 1977 and February 1978, and digitally re-mastered to this set. The digital transfer is superb, with outstanding dynamic range and minimal noise. The Berlin Philharmonic plays superbly; cultivated and polished yet with tremendous strength at times. Throughout, the performances are warm and lyrical yet very dramatic. These are tremendously enjoyable performances and recordings which have stood the test of time against more recent releases.
I bought this as part of an open-minded exploration of the supposedly 'great' symphonies.
I had hoped the usually brilliant combination of Karajan and the Berlin Phil might have changed my mind about Brahms, but unfortunately that hasn't been the case.
I had never seriously studied his symphonies before getting this album. I had heard them in the odd concert or radio broadcast and experienced occasional analyses in music college. They never struck me as anything special and I really never understood the reverence in which they are held.
They are, to me, like a poor version of Beethoven. Missing the clarity and great melodic gift that Beethoven had. The 4th Symphony Passacaglia is perhaps the only movement I enjoyed in all 4 symphonies. Saying that it's not something I am compelled to revisit like I would for Beethoven, Haydn, Bruckner, Sibelius and other great symphonists.
I can't fault the playing of course, it's just not my kind of music. I honestly find it boring.
If you love Brahms though you may think this is a great album!
Karajan is not a great Brahmsian symphonist - Toscanini, Furtwängler, and Jochum are superior exponents of the cycle - but in these 1977-8 recordings, the performance of the 4th with the BPO is superb. The 1st is a bit of a let down, lacking energy and drive, but the 2nd and 3rd are pretty good - as the cycle goes on, the performances improve until Karajan actually provides something truly excellent in the last symphony. As someone who struggles with Brahms, but loves the BPO, these recordings are a bit of a disappointment for me, except for the 4th.