Symphonies Nos 1 & 5
Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer
Channel Classics CCS SA 39719 (hybrid CD/SACD) 61:41 mins
In the booklet, Iván Fischer aptly describes the journey from Beethoven’s First Symphony to his Fifth as being one from Classicism to Romanticism. Of the two performances, the Fifth Symphony is particularly successful. Its first movement, taken at a real lick, has a tremendous atmosphere of excitement and coiled tension; and the transition between the scherzo and finale, with its mysterious, dissonant timpani taps, is splendidly handled, too. Fischer takes the hushed opening bars of the scherzo itself at below tempo, only establishing the real pulse of the piece with the fortissimo entry of the horns and their famous repeated-note rhythmic motif. It’s a liberty, perhaps, but undeniably effective.
There’s much to enjoy in the First Symphony, too – not least, Fischer’s account of the witty finale. Beethoven calls the third movement a minuet, but the music’s tempo marking and its character make it more akin to a scherzo. Here Fischer could, perhaps, have used a little less Classical restraint. His account of the second movement, too, is unfashionably lingering. It’s true that if it’s taken just a notch too fast it can easily turn into an Allegretto, but all the same it could do with a touch more balletic lightness. But the inspired performance of the Fifth, and the fine playing of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, makes this disc well worth exploring.