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THE MUSIC BOX

By Jones Barish

It is in the Fourth Symphony that the qualities of intensity and warmth one associates with Brahms attain their final fusion, and at the same time their most complete expression. The First Symphony had dangled awkwardly between saccharinely and fustian. The Second was better unified, but its succession of lush themes cloyed one with an overdose of sweetness, while the lyrical Third fell short in Brahmsian power. The Fourth, then, is Brahm's finest work in the symphonic form. It is pretentious, but for me at least, it fulfills its pretensions. As commentators have pointed out, the whole work is steeped in passion, even bitterness. It is a sort of Brahms confessional. I myself am increasingly impressed with the first movement, which, in the words of an eminent critic, starts out as though it had been going on for a long time and we were just becoming aware of it, and then builds up through long sustained periods to what is really a titanic climax. On the other hand, I am less and less impressed with the finale, because while it is great intellect, great poetry if you like, it is not great drama in the sense that the first movement is. It tends to stagnate instead of sweeping impetuously ahead. Brahms fails, in this movement, to master the theme and variations form as Beethoven does in the finale of the Eroica. His variations fall apart; they never quite coalesce into dramatic inevitability.

Be that as it may, the new recording of the Brahms Fourth (Victor Album M730) is one of the outstanding releases of the year. Koussevitzky's magnificent performance with the Boston Symphony Orchestra is recorded with the spaciousness, the fidelity, and perfect tonal balance that characterizes the best in modern recording, and it supercedes all the older recordings from every standpoint....

The difference between the indescribable hash E. Power Biggs makes of a Bach Chorale Prelude, and the superb gusto and vigor he puts into a Handel organ concerto, is to me one of the seven wonders. In the latest in the Victor series of Handel organ concertos, the Cuckoo and the Nightingale Concerto, Album M733 he plays most delightfully on the Baroque organ of the Germanic Museum to a spirited accompaniment by Arthur Fiedler's Sinfonietta. The concerto itself is a delightful one, and the whole album as successful a combination of Biggs, Victor, and Handel, as has yet appeared....Anyone who is revolted, as I am, by Stokowski's lurid transcriptions and feverish performances of Bach may be glad to hear that there is still someone floating around who has the taste to transcribe early music and not emerge with something different from the original. Dr. Hans Kindler, conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra of Washington, D. C., has made a firstrate transcription of a Frescobaldi toccata (Victor Record 4537), and he plays this mettlesome music with verve, but without the nervous mannerisms Stokowski puts in Bach--and that is something to get mildly excited about....

On a single Victor record are impressive motets by Palestrina and Durante (17633) moderately well sung by the Augustana Choir under Henry Veld....And for Wagner fans, there is a new pressing of the overture to Die Meistersinger played by Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. This sort of stuff is right up Stokowski's alley. He gives a brilliant, bang-up performance of the prelude to the third act of Lohengrin, on the fourth side.

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