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LABELS: Channel Classics
WORKS: Symphony No. 2; Tragic Overture; Academic Festival Overture
PERFORMER: Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer


After Brahms’s years of struggle to overcome his fear of Beethoven and to achieve his Symphony No. 1 in 1876, his Symphony No. 2 flowed forth with an exceptional spontaneity in a few summer holiday weeks the following year. Yet analysis reveals that it is even more integrated in thematic structure than the First, and it is that balance between detailed focus and spontaneity that Iván Fischer and his Budapest Festival Orchestra strike so convincingly here.

Fischer’s moderate speeds ensure that his subtle tempo modifications always sound natural: never more so than in the finale. Too often one hears this launched as a jubilant scramble with a sudden grinding of brakes for the largamente second subject, whereas Fischer’s slightly more commodious beat allows for an easing into the slower tempo without friction. Given space to phrase and characterise, the Budapest Festival Orchestra respond accordingly; one notices how frequently in this score Brahms marks his wind parts dolce (gently, sweetly) because that is how these players deliver them. The whole texture, as captured in the Budapest Palace of Arts, has a translucent clarity and glow; nothing sounds ponderous; one hears virtually every note.

After the bucolic light and shade of the D major Symphony, the D minor of the Tragic Overture comes as a dramatic shock. Here Fischer is exceptionally successful in sustaining tension through the more recessed passages of the development. Even he cannot mitigate some of the more lumpen scoring of the Academic Festival Overture but it comes over heartily all the same.


Bayan Northcott