Beethoven: Symphonies 1 & 5 - Fischer
Channel Classics CC SSA 39719
Classical - Orchestral
Beethoven: Symphonies 1 & 5
Budapest Festival Orchestra
Ivan Fischer (conductor)
Review by Graham Williams - December 8, 2019
The many admirers and collectors of Iván Fischer’s superb recordings with his incomparable Budapest Festival Orchestra know that considerable patience is required where symphonic cycles are concerned. His (almost-a-complete) Mahler cycle, that is certainly one of the finest available, took 15 years to bring to fruition while in the case of Brahms, we still await his account of the 3rd Symphony. A well received release of Beethoven’s Symphony 7 in 2008 was followed by a coupling of the composer’s Symphonies 4 and 6 two years later and with this latest issue we have reached the halfway stage of what one hopes might eventually become a complete Beethoven cycle.
It is Fischer’s method of working that is one of the reasons for what to some may appear as a protracted time scale. Intense periods of preparation are followed by extensive live performances with the Budapest Festival Orchestra before he commits his interpretations to disc. Editing and assessment of each recording is then undertaken in close collaboration with producer and engineer Jared Sacks. Only when both are satisfied is the recording released. The results speak for themselves.
Fischer considers this particular pairing of two Beethoven symphonies to represent the important journey from the classical view of the symphony – as represented by Haydn – to the revolutionary romantic one and so, in keeping with that distinction, the 1st Symphony precedes the 5th on this disc. Other high resolution version such as those by Paavo Järvi (Sony) and Haitink (LSO Live) with perhaps a greater eye to commercial success, though less logic, present the more famous 5th Symphony first.
As with Fischer’s earlier Beethoven recordings these are ‘big band’, not period performances, with a muscular approach but one that avoids any suggestion of heaviness thanks to the athletic thrust and textural clarity that the conductor elicits from his players.
Fischer’s account of the 1st Symphony is relaxed and evenly paced with the emphasis being on elegance and precision rather than speed, thus allowing the listener full appreciation of, for example, the fine characterful woodwind playing of his orchestra. The symphony’s second movement is marked ‘Andante cantabile con moto’ and though some might prefer a faster more flowing account of this movement to Fischer’s rather measured tempo there is no doubt as to the beauty of the performance. The Menuetto is weighty but crisply played while the Finale has all the wit and elan that one could wish for.
The 5th Symphony’s opening movement is fast but, as is to be expected from these consummate musicians, notable for the precision of the playing as well as its power and unanimity of attack. The ‘Andante con moto’, in contrast, flows with an appealingly relaxed lyricism. The opening of the scherzo is unusual in terms of tempo and dynamics something that some may question though it gives the music an air of anticipation before the superbly swaggering horns burst forth. The trio section is notable for the impressive articulation of the basses, while Fischer’s transition from scherzo’s conclusion to the blazing C major of the finale is magnificently delivered.
Though the seemingly unstoppable release of fine recordings of Beethoven symphonies on download, CD, Blu-ray and SACD means that collectors have an enviable, if bewildering choice of competing versions available for their libraries, this one certainly joins the select few top recommendations for a coupling of these two works.
The 5.0 DSD recording was made in the generous acoustic of the Palace of Arts, Budapest in February 2017 by Jared Sacks who also undertook the editing and mastering processes. In terms of tonal warmth, clarity and a commendably wide soundstage it achieves the peerless standard of sound quality familiar from Channel Classics releases.
Copyright © 2019 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net