Albums that revolutionized how I hear and appreciate Brahms symphonies

When I was hired as a classical producer at Colorado Public Radio in the late 90's, I came with a rock and roll and jazz background. I remember asking one of the announcers, "What composer's music sounds like … oh I dunno… Miles Davis?"

She looked at me with a mixture of horror and amusement and said, "Richard, no one sounds like Miles Davis."

A few days later I interviewed Marin Alsop, one of the world's great conductors and Music Director Laureate of the Colorado Symphony. As a young woman, she studied with Leonard Bernstein as one of his protégés. I asked her the obvious rookie question, "Who's your favorite composer?"

She smiled and said, "I first fell in love with Brahms. After awhile, I started having a little affair with Bela Bartok, but I kept coming back to Brahms." In those first years I tried, but I just didn't get it.

Brahms gives up his riches slowly, and like Miles Davis, no one sounds like him.

Richard Ray, CPR Classical Contributor

I didn't like Brahms and I couldn't imagine how anyone else could either. But I kept listening and I discovered two things. Brahms gives up his riches slowly, and like Miles Davis, no one sounds like him.

These modern recordings of his four symphonies are to my ears, the most dynamic arrangements and also have the best sound quality to capture all the subtle details. It took me years to find and appreciate them, which brings me back to something else Marin said about Brahms in that long ago interview, "He comes from a time where big ideas mattered more than small ones.”

Symphony No. 1 in C Minor

Symphony No. 2 in D Major

Symphony No. 3 in F Major

Symphony No. 4 in E Minor

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