Brahms: Symphony No. 3 - Fischer
Channel Classics CCSSA 43821
Classical - Orchestral
Brahms: Symphony No. 3, Serenade No. 2
Budapest Festival Orchestra
Ivan Fischer (conductor)
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Review by Graham Williams - June 7, 2021
This issue from Iván Fischer and his incomparable Budapest Festival Orchestra marks the completion of their acclaimed cycle of the four Brahms symphonies for Channel Classics that began in 2009 with the release of the composer’s 1st Symphony Brahms: Symphony No. 1 - Fischer .Symphony No. 2 followed in 2014 Brahms: Symphony No. 2 - Fischer and Symphony No. 4 arrived a year later. Brahms: Symphony No. 4 - Fischer.
The frustrating five year gap that has ensued made one wonder whether the cycle would ever come to fruition. Thankfully, in spite of the pandemic, it has happened. The recording began one day prior to Hungary closing its borders on September 1st, 2020 when the indefatigable Jared Sacks (producer and recording engineer) had just arrived from the Netherlands and, despite the lockdown, the venue remained accessible and the recording was completed.
The discography of this symphony is of course vast, so when it comes to a choice from the wide range of interpretations available, personal taste will inevitably be the deciding factor and in a review one can only hope to give a flavour of what is on offer here. But with these performers one need hardly say that in each of the four movements we are treated to outstanding orchestral playing of the utmost finesse.
Fischer’s evenly paced account of the opening movement is delivered with a magisterial grandeur that, combined with a well controlled dynamism, grips the listener from the first bar. The antiphonal seating of the orchestral violins (as would have been the case in Brahms’s time) helps to ensure that textures are clear and free from any trace of stodginess throughout. Naturally, Fischer maintains the balance of the symphony’s overall structure by making the movement’s exposition repeat.
The second movement is notable both for the conductor’s well-judged flowing tempi and also the immaculately blended playing of the distinctive BFO woodwind, while the following deeply expressive ‘Poco allegretto’ unfolds with a beguiling simplicity, avoiding any sense of the maudlin that can sometimes mar other versions. Fischer’s account of the finale’s main allegro is powerfully urgent and with the richness of the orchestral playing in the autumnal closing pages his performance is brought to an eloquent and satisfying conclusion.
There is no doubt that this is an outstanding account of Brahms’s least played, but most personal symphony and it will surely join those near the top of anyone’s wish-list, especially for collectors seeking a modern recording of the work in state-of-the-art sound. They can be assured that on this 5.0 multi-channel SACD Jared Sacks and his team have achieved a resplendent, lucid and well balanced recording typical of this label, one that equals those of the earlier Brahms issues listed above.
Since the 3rd is the shortest of Brahms’s symphonies, most versions on record assign one of more fill-ups to it. On the earlier issues Fischer has already given us the usual suspects – the Tragic and Academic Festival Overtures and the Variations on a Theme by Haydn – so the coupling on this SACD is a most welcome choice.
Two of the young Brahms’s loveliest works are his Serenades Op.11 and Op.16. Yet the second of these, composed between1857 and 1860, appears fairly infrequently in the concert hall or on disc compared with the over abundance of the symphonies.
The A major work recorded here is a sunny piece full of fresh melodic invention. Its unusual scoring for winds and lower strings (no violins) may be one possible reason for its inexplicable neglect. The characterful wind players of Fischer’s marvellous Budapest Festival Orchestra relish to the full the opportunities Brahms offers them with playing of ineffable sweetness in each of the work’s five movements. Fischer’s tempi are appropriately relaxed but always alert and I cannot imagine a more enchanting or beautifully recorded account of this delightful work.
This release has been worth the long wait and I have no hesitation in giving it an unreserved recommendation.
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