All products and recordings are chosen independently by our editorial team. This review contains affiliate links and we may receive a commission for purchases made. Please read our affiliates FAQ page to find out more.

Brahms: Complete Symphonies (Danish CO/A Fischer)

Danish Chamber Orchestra/Ádám Fischer (Naxos)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Symphonies Nos 1-4
Danish Chamber Orchestra/Ádám Fischer
Naxos 8.574465-67   152:11 mins (3 discs)

When, on 2 April 1886, Brahms himself conducted the Meiningen Court Orchestra in the first performance of his Fourth Symphony, he had just under 50 players at his disposal, having turned down the offer of augmenting the orchestra’s string section for the occasion. Ádám Fischer and the Danish Chamber Orchestra are by no means the first to have tackled the Brahms symphonies with similarly pared-down forces, and the leaner sound often works to the music’s advantage. It’s particularly refreshing, for instance, to hear the famous tune in the finale of the First Symphony done without the usual exaggeratedly fat G-string tone. Fischer tends to favour swift tempos – notably so in No. 4’s opening movement, where melodic expressiveness is rather sacrificed to cumulative energy; and in the Allegro giocoso third movement, which hurtles by at an almost manic speed. The weight of scoring in the latter piece would seem to suggest Brahms had a more teutonic sense of humour in mind.

The impassioned opening pages of the Third Symphony are a moment that does seem to call out for richer string tone, but elsewhere Fischer’s flexible tempos and his ear for colour generally serve him well. There’s a mysterious passage in No. 3’s finale where he even has the strings play near the bridge of the instrument, producing a ghostly ‘glassy’ sound. The sunnier Second Symphony suits Fischer’s approach particularly well, and its closing moments, with their braying horns and trumpets, are thrillingly done. Altogether, something of a mixed success, but always thought-provoking.

Misha Donat