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Brahms: Symphony No. 4 - Fischer

Brahms: Symphony No. 4 - Fischer

Channel Classics  CC SSA 35315

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Brahms: Symphony No. 4; Hungarian Dances 3, 7 & 11

Budapest Festival Orchestra
Ivan Fischer


"What a wonderful start: a fragmented melody like a hovering leaf blown up and down by the wind. Never has tenderness been composed more movingly. And what a magnificent ending of the same movement: extreme tenderness is matched by extreme drama which grows and grows to gigantic expression. Brahms is not restrained any more in his last symphony. After the fun and vitality of the third movement the final passacaglia is much more than a sequence of variations. We experience a huge range of dark emotions: from the lonely lamentation of the flute to the defiant, tragic ending. There is no room for the usual jubilation or the usual modulation to a major key. Brahms finishes his symphonic work with prophetic foreboding heralding Spengler's Der Untergang des Abendlandes (The Decline of the West).

When we played the Hungarian Dance no. 3 by Brahms I realised that I usually play this music, or its direct source, as the repertoire of a particular region of Transylvania known as Szék/Sic csárdás. Szék/Sic is a Hungarian village in Transylvania; the csárdás, typical of this region, is played in the middle of a lengthy dancing scheme or suite lasting up to 40- 50 minutes, besides various other csárdás melodies. Even today the people of Szék/Sic enjoy listening to this music during holidays and weekend gatherings; it consists mainly of folk songs, and the villagers like to sing along to them. István Kádár, violin ("Szék" is the Hungarian and "Sic" is the Rumanian name of the village)" - Ivan Fischer

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Review by Graham Williams - November 14, 2015

A continuing disappointment for those collecting Ivan Fischer's cycle of the Brahms Symphonies is that its gestation period has been so protracted. The first release appeared six years ago in 2009 Brahms: Symphony No. 1 - Fischer and the second in 2012 Brahms: Symphony No. 2 - Fischer. This latest release, that one might have hoped would complete the cycle, only gives us the 4th Symphony when it would be reasonable to expect that the 3rd Symphony would also have been included, especially as the four 'fill-ups' on this SACD total a mere 9'38”. That grumble over, there is much to enjoy here.

First and foremost is the extraordinarily cultured playing from every section of Fischer's superb Budapest Festival Orchestra. Their sound, as captured magnificently in Channel's excellent 5.0 DSD recording, is leaner than one would perhaps find in performances of Brahms from their more upholstered Berlin and Vienna rivals, but it perfectly suits Fischer's somewhat dour reading of the composer's elegiac final symphony.

The opening 'Allegro non troppo', though not too slow, is surprisingly restrained in mood. Fischer stresses the poignancy of the music in a way that can sometimes dangerously impede its forward momentum. The passage from 6'41” to 7'50”, though very expressive, is one example of this interpretive micro-management evident throughout his performance. In the serene 'Andante moderato' one's ear is seduced by the rich yet cultured sound of the BFO – horns and clarinets superbly blended in the steady tread of the opening section and strings blossoming radiantly as the movement progresses. It must be admitted, however, that coolness and restraint rather than comforting warmth are the overriding feelings with which one is left at its conclusion. The brief Scherzo is notable for its muscular energy rather than communicating a sense of unbounded joy, but it is pleasing to hear the important triangle ringing out in the way it does in the concert hall rather than the puny sound often heard on many recordings of this movement. It is in in the final Passacaglia where Fischer is at his best, eliciting playing from his superb orchestra that is always eloquent and richly expressive. Though there is no lack of drama – the closing pages are hammered home with considerable force – the conductor's tendency to dwell on the more reposeful passages does slightly hold back the music's forward thrust.

The symphony is followed by three of the more mellow of Brahms's Hungarian Dances that, like the symphony, are all in minor keys. Naturally the players of the Budapest Festival Orchestra are in their element in these dances. A further bonus is the inclusion of a short piece of instrumental folk music from the region of Sic, a Hungarian village in Transylvania, whose melody was used by Brahms in the third of these dances. Here it is performed with style by three orchestra members – István Kádár violin, András Szabó, viola and Attila Martos, bass.

In a hugely competitive field Fischer's undeniably well-considered account of Brahms 4th Symphony will have many admirers, even if, for this listener, it does not quite match the very high standard set by the previous two issues.

Definitely a case of try before you buy.

Copyright © 2015 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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Comment by [Current93] - November 14, 2015 (1 of 5)

If it's played like robots as the Symphony No.2, this SACD is no contender for me. Also, who in the world would like to listen to these silly dances after Brahms's final symphonic statement?

Comment by hiredfox - November 28, 2015 (2 of 5)

We have maybe come to expect too much from Ivan Fischer and his Budapest Festival Orchestra. His refreshing and often innovative interpretations of familiar works have captivated audiences and listeners in recent years and his success may also have created its own problems in that expectations can be ridiculously high for any new recording. Pleasing everyone, all the time is indeed a daunting task. Whilst I totally disagree with the previous comment about the coupling I do agree with Graham that this is a so-so performance; there are many better interpretations on SACD as well as recordings in general.

There tends to be a completist attitude amongst labels and musicians these days that did not exist in earlier years so a symphonic recording has to be part of a full survey but that is not necessarily a very wise approach especially with Brahms. Notoriously ensembles tend to do well either with the 1st & 3rd or with the 2nd & 4th and sometimes with only single works. It is widely accepted by critics that nobody has succeeded so far across the spectrum. Clearly Fischer is not exceptional in this way.

Comment by Marcus DiBenedetto - October 15, 2021 (3 of 5)

I want to alert members that Native DSD has just released Reference Recordings Brahms Symphony #4 by Maestro Honeck and the PSO. SACD release is October 22,2021. Available now for download. Recorded DSD 256, post produced in DXD 32/352.8. I purchased the DSD 256 version. Recorded live on April 20-22, 2018. Gosh, 3.5 years for post production by Soundmirror. But, it is worth the wait. For me, the performance and recording are superb in every way. Download the booklet (free) to read Maestro Honeck's in depth look at the composition and his thoughts about conducting it. Lots of interesting comparisons with Bruckner's style. I'll leave it up to the experts to give you their take.

Marcus DiBenedetto
Las Vegas, NV

Comment by hiredfox - October 16, 2021 (4 of 5)

Thanks for the Heads Up Marcus. Eagerly awaited in this household on the South Coast of "Old" Hampshire.

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - October 16, 2021 (5 of 5)

Review in the pipeline. It is simply stunning (for want of a better word and trying to avoid "awesome"!) provided you get the highest resolution your system is able to reproduce.