Brahms: Symphony No. 3 - Fischer

Brahms: Symphony No. 3 - Fischer

Channel Classics  CCSSA 43821

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral

Brahms: Symphony No. 3, Serenade No. 2

Budapest Festival Orchestra
Ivan Fischer (conductor)

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DSD recording
Reviews (1)

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.

Copyright © 2021 Graham Williams and


Sonics (Multichannel):

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Comments (7)

Comment by hiredfox - May 25, 2021 (1 of 7)

It has been a long time coming, let's hope it is worth it. Presumably the actual recording took place pre-Covid?

Comment by Steven Harrison - May 25, 2021 (2 of 7)

I read somewhere that Jared mentioned they were able to record the Brahms 3rd when the Beethoven 9th recording had to be cancelled because of Covid in March 2020.

Comment by Desertpilot - June 7, 2021 (3 of 7)

Just today I discovered an interview with Jared Sacks by Rushton Paul ( I thought you might enjoy reading about his relationship with Iván Fischer (and others). The interview was December, 2020. Jared noted that they did this recording in August 2020. Jared sent the master file to Iván in November but scheduling a listening session and final mix is unpredictable with Iván. Release dates are difficult to schedule.

Cliff Notes: Fischer and his orchestra is one of only a few that record in studio rather than performance. Jared prefers this so he can place microphones wherever needed. They record an entire movement at one time. Then Fisher and many orchestra members crowd the control room to listen to the recording. They do this a couple more times to "get it right".

The entire interview was fascinating. I hope you do too.

Marcus DiBenedetto
Las Vegas, NV

Comment by Steven Harrison - June 8, 2021 (4 of 7)

Thanks for that. Good Read.

Comment by Desertpilot - June 10, 2021 (5 of 7)

FYI... Native DSD is offering a "box" set of all four symphonies at a 25% discount. No end date for this offer is listed. I took advantage of it.

Marcus DiBenedetto
Las Vegas, NV

Comment by hiredfox - June 15, 2021 (6 of 7)

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to both Ivan Fischer who has championed the high resolution DSD/SACD recording format almost since its beginnings with Philips and has stayed 100% loyal to Channel Classics pretty much throughout his stellar career and to Jared for persisting against all the financial odds in releasing Ivan's recordings as physical discs for our small community.

I have, courtesy of Jared a personally dedicated signed photograph of Ivan that has graced my listening room for many, many years. Whether he approves of all the selections of music of my evening soirees remains a moot point.

Comment by Desertpilot - June 21, 2021 (7 of 7)

I had to do it. I couldn't ignore David Hurwitz's YouTube review of this album. Surprise! He doesn't like it. Well, to be honest, he really likes movements 2 & 3 plus the Serenade #2. However, he takes Fischer to task over movements 1 & 4. His review is his opinion and I accept that but in a separate video he notes the "finest" recordings of Brahms Symphony #3. Guess what? They are 1960s and 70s recordings in mono and stereo. No knock against older recordings as they have their place but with dozens of high resolution recordings available, why would older mono recordings be superior? Several times now, he has an objection to recordings that I think are exceptional. Personally, I will continue to rely on HR Audio for reviews.

To be clear, I have listened to this recording many times now and I truly enjoy it, especially the first movement.

Marcus DiBenedetto
Las Vegas, NV