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Description du produit
Description du produit
During recent years Andrew Manze has become one of the most inspiring conductors of his generation. Since 2006 he has been the principal conductor of the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra in Sweden, who celebrated their 100th birthday in February 2012. It is with this orchestra that Andrew Manze conducts a wonderful new interpretation of the Brahms Symphonies, recorded in SACD sound. Accompanying the complete Symphonies are the Haydn Variations, Tragic Overture and Academic Overture.
This is a remarkable new Brahms cycle: one of the most fiery, original and thought-provoking sets of the symphonies to have appeared in the digital era and one that is infused by historically informed evidence, played on modern instruments… for a wholly stimulating alternative view of Brahms, Andrew Manze and his Helsingborg orchestra are inspiring -- IRR OUTSTANDING --International Record Review, April 2012
You don't often find freshness and innovation in performances of the Brahms symphonies, but Manze's take is wholly individual: they burst with life, by turns wistful, yearning, sharp-edged and blisteringly incisive… Manze's vision provides more than an 'early music' approach to Brahms: this is the composer reinvented for the 21st century. --The Observer, 6th May 2012
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Reactions to music are typically highly subjective whereas assessments of sound quality are likely to generate more agreement. To me SACDs are generally worth the extra cost – even if one does not have an SACD player. Most SACDs are of very high quality. Some brands, however, seem to stand out as consistently producing the highest quality sound discs -- CPO is one standout, ARTS is another.
Sound quality, of course, is irrelevant if the performance is poor – but Manze’s performances on this 3CD set are, to my ear, uniformly enjoyable. The booklet accompanying this SACD-Set explains Manze’s approach to this music. First, and most important, he notes he arranged his orchestra based on the “old-fashioned seating” with the two violin groups sitting antiphonally, the seconds opposite the firsts on the conductor’s right. My sense is this produces at least some of the superb instrumental detail provided by these SACDs. Second, Manze comments that over the years the durations of the outer movements have become slower whereas some of the slower movements have come to be performed faster. Citing his performance of the 2nd Symphony, Manze says his performance largely conforms to the tempo of the original performance. Finally, while Manze characterizes his performances as “post historically informed practice” (or performances), his orchestra uses modern instruments. The Helsingborg Orchestra has, I believe, approximately 60 players and while smaller than many of the other Symphony Orchestras to perform these works, under Manze’s leadership it is large enough to provide very enjoyable performances and the “smaller” size may facilitate the excellent instrument detail provided through these CDs.
After purchasing a (Marantz SA-8005) SACD player about 15-18 months ago I decided to purchase an SACD set of the Brahms Symphonies even though I had multiple Brahms Symphony cycle sets on regular CDs which also had excellent sound. When I looked over the SACD cycles available on Amazon at that time I leaned towards the Pentatone SACD Brahms cycle with Kurt Masur and the Gewandhaus Orchestra as I have many other Masur/Gewandhaus CDs and his performances are typically excellent. By way of contrast, I had never heard of the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra – albeit I was familiar with Manze from his performances of “Baroque” music. The Masur cycle, however, had limited availability and was very expensive in new condition while the three reviews of this set were uniformly highly positive. I thus purchased this SACD Set, am very pleased with it and highly recommend it for listeners wanting an SACD version of the Brahms Symphonies. I will add that for those who particularly enjoy Brahms’ Symphonies they will likely want more than one set and there are some regular CD sets available which contain superb performances and excellent sound quality – two that immediately come to mind being George Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Decca/London [430-799-2] and Christoph von Dohnanyi and the Cleveland Orchestra [Warner Classics 2564-64159-2].
The controversial core of these readings will no doubt be how Andrew Manze has his Helsingborg band doing HIP-inflected manners even though everybody is playing modern instruments. Tempos are generally lively, if nor outright on the fast side. The way Manze hears it, Brahms is building this orchestra from the bottom up, so the major heft in the music comes from the low to middle. The top is always clear, but hardly the sweeping and often sweetish (even thick caramel) gleam that bigger bands regularly adopt for Brahms symphonies.
Given how my tastes in Brahms symphonies tends to go, my fav shelf sets include Giulini (Vienna, and London), Levine (Chicago), and the big decision used to be choosing between George Szell and Cleveland, compared to Bruno Walter. That precedent means that it took some getting accustomed for me to really start to heart Manze and what his band are doing in these freshly considered readings.
Once my ear adjusted, and I stopped hearing the sound in an anticipatory context of more traditional, larger orchestras (Chicago, Berlin, Philadelphia, Dresden, Amsterdam, Cleveland, Boston, Vienna), I think I really started to get it, and the more I listened the more enchanted I felt myself becoming, along with a fresh kind of pleasure and satisfaction setting in.
Let me pause to interject that I have tried out the HIP-mannered Brahms quite a bit. I started off liking Norrington with the London Classical Players, though I also felt that something I could not quite identify or name did seem to be missing. Then I went on to Gardiner in his more recent HIP series, again coming away with a good sense that I liked what he was doing with his excellent period band, without necessarily predicting that I would want to hear these period instrument readings more often than need as a kind of sonic palate cleanser. Something similar goes for Mackerras leading the Scots Chamber Orchestra. Good, interesting, valuable for contrast ... but hardly what I would hear as essential instead of additional music-making.
With this set I correct myself, completely.
The huge and refreshing gains in tonal transparency come through with Helsingborg under Manze. So to that extent, I am in an early welcoming mode. Brahms used to be frequently accused of being a dark, thick, heavy orchestrator. Whether or not that sounded true and real at any given moment seems to have had as much to do with the sonic characteristics of the hall or venue, as it did with the orchestra and the composer. And let's not omit the engineers from their contributions to what bands sounded like on recordings, going all the way back.
Consistently Manze inspires his players to a relentlessly lean yet pristine balance. Taken on its own terms, the Helsingborg-Manze tonal picture is whole and wholesome in its own ways. By the end of a symphony, a listener may well find him- or herself in the very process of redefining what tonal heft means, such that it has much less to do with loudness and much more to do with clarity that subtly invites a human ear to become intimate with Brahms the genius of polyphony. Something ineffable about the composer's way with harmony strikes new touches of pre-Mahlerian size suggested through quite pre-Webern means.
If I paused while listening to Manze, comparing what I was hearing to, say, Giulini in Vienna, then Manze is much more direct, just full steam ahead. Almost to a fault, I am tempted to say. He has little or no need to slow down or speed up, and the illumination or drama that the composer is believed to have customarily written into his symphonies is left to come across in new ways. Manze has Helsingborg letting clear, important changes be rung on rhythm and that often-moving-along harmony, most notably apparent in the familiar hemiolas or cross-rhythms, explicit and implicit. Tonal colors are constantly limpid, yet over time a listener may begin to pick up a whole, interesting, subtle flow of shifting, changing colors and lights as the different departments of the instruments come and go. Tonal colors are hardly overpowering, but compel an ear through subtlety. Once I thought I was beginning to hear the music in this rather different way, I thought the symphonies (plus the two overtures and the Haydn Variations that fill out this set) were becoming newly fascinating. Though I was at first struck by Manze's straight-faced engagement with plain-ish tempo and texture and melody, as my ear changed, I heard the music as simply teeming with a different sort of abundant, musical - oh so musical - life.
The last two symphonies (3 plus 4) come off particularly as polyphonic miracles. A very happily nuanced yet remarkable and compelling through-line thrust of brilliant variation seems deeper, more comprehensive in Brahm's writing than ever before. The familiar impression of panoramic humanist intelligence that must be associated with the composer is intensified, heightened. (Bruno Walter must be smiling in music director heaven, if not rubbing shoulders and sipping absolutely perfect cappuccinos with Erasmus and Benjamin Franklin.) All the athletics and the drama do not seem diminished or flattened, but rendered in a more personal, intimate narrative and encounter. One test moment for me involves the closing pages of the third symphony. In the traditional, big band romantic approach, this closing typically comes across as the most ethereal, sweet, achingly sweet conclusion in all of the symphonies. Under Manze with Helsingborg it loses its ethereal wispyness, seems more all of a piece with the unending flow of constant variation that has come before, and gains as a substantive, transcendent culmination of unusual force and satisfaction (not loudness).
The start of the fourth symphony can sound partial and tentative, a prologue of context awaiting the entrance of the music's main players; but not with Manze. (Nor let me hasten to say, with other renowned Brahms conductors, such as Reiner's last recording.) From the first notes, we are clearly in the striking and immensely intoxicating technical presence of the same composer who wrote books of keyboard variations on themes by Handel or Paganini. The gathering forces just arrive and multiply throughout the rest of the first movement, after those opening notes. The first movement is musical and massive, though hardly stolid or heavy, even for a passing moment. The second movement relaxes us while deepening the marvels of variation perspective, like looking at M.C. Escher graphics. Sweet, heartfelt music comes across, but never, ever at the expense of the through-lines of abundant, amazing transformation. The second movement's serene, Olympian first theme on the solo horn is putting down granite columns at the four corners of an M. C. Escher round earth by the time we get to the movement's end, with the broad strings and woodwinds now serving up the lofty, serene energies. The third movement intensifies yet provides another sort of relief by setting the dance of transforming perspectives, spinning off into nine dimensions. Manze with Helsingborg conjures an unusually muscular, graceful impression, its music substantial and able to turn pinpoint on a dime spot. Some listeners may be prompted to recall those bull-leaping youths painted on Minoan Crete's artifacts. Come the concluding fourth movement, we are ready for this past genius of variation to bring it all together, rather as one is ready for, say, Anton Bruckner to inter-relate his superlative triple fugue in the final movement of his fifth symphony. The transforming, shifting tonal colors and textures add to the sense of energy unleashed, volcanic yet planful, all at once. I have always, always love the composer of course, and the Manze set provokes me to lift him up as simply the greatest musician of his era. He is revealed a colossus, like Bach, Beethoven, or Mozart; Handel, or Haydn, or Stravinsky.
Given the plethora of beautiful, musical things happening in these symphonies, in retrospect Manze's refusal to get fussy about phrasing or tempo seems wise, indeed. It is perhaps too facile a praise to talk of Desert Island Discs, but this set grabs a listener and will not let go, if your ears take at all to what Manze and Helsingborg are doing with Brahms. If I were about to board for that fabulous desert island, I would beg loud and long to have two Brahms sets in my luggage, and this Manze set would be one of them. I strongly suspect that when I get enough of the final disc with the third and fourth symphonies in mesmerizing power, I will be able to go back to the first and second symphonies and hear them, differently, too. Till then, I can admit that this set is going to be on the player for a while.
Not a front runner for anybody or everybody, perhaps? But a strong contender for those who chance a hearing, then fall under its fresh and wonderful spell. Can't wait to do the super audio surround, but will just have to stand it till the new home is up and running.
I guess I am a bit biased because I thrive on exciting and exaggerated performances - even though purists might scoff at the very idea.
I'm not an expert, so to those classical musical trolls that love to nit-pick...save your self time. I'm simply a musician who knows what he likes - giving his time to help others make good choices for their collections.
In researching best I could, I compared the You-Tube performances of Bychov (Koln WDR), Gergiev (LSO) and even Janowski (PSO) versions.
This Manze/Helsingborg performance is the most pleasing to me....exciting/modern and well played. I found Bychov to be a bit too smooth and bland, the Gergiev seemed harsh in places it shouldn't be. The PSO performance just didn't have the emotion and skill of the Helsingborg performance.
I also do tend to limit myself to recent multichannel recordings when searching for catalog additions.
The Third and Fourth Symphonies here are worth the price of this value-priced 3-disc set.
While I have just purchased this SACD and haven't yet reviewed the MCH sound - I'm sure it will measure up to the other CPO label recordings I have. My CPO recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons Dresden Winds is spectacular. The expert review on SA-CD.net was a glowing recommendation, and I have never been steered wrong by them before.
I definitely recommend this performance...and will update later on the technical aspects of the MCH recording.
Manze is best in the fast movements where his penchant for brisk tempi and well-defined phrasing is most obvious. In the slow movements he is more reserved and lets Brahms' emotions as written be the focal point rather than imposing stoic or grand attitudes on the works. This, then, is a fine set of all the Brahms symphonies played with grace and style and gratefully without the pompous overlay some other conductors impose on the scores. That is not to say this is 'Brahms-lite' - not at all. This instead is Brahms clarified and the set is immensely satisfying. Grady Harp, July 12