Brahms: Symphony No. 4 - Fischer
Channel Classics CC SSA 35315
Classical - Orchestral
Brahms: Symphony No. 4; Hungarian Dances 3, 7 & 11
Budapest Festival Orchestra
"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