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Brahms: Symphony No. 3; Serenade No. 2

Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer (Channel Classics)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0
CCS SA 43821_Brahms

Symphony No. 3; Serenade No. 2
Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer
Channel Classics CCS SA 43821 (CD/SACD)   68:13 mins

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The final instalment in Iván Fischer’s complete Brahms symphony cycle is something of a mixed bag. Conductor and orchestra certainly have the measure of the Third Symphony’s lyrical middle movements which are projected with great expressive warmth, wonderfully subtle phrasing and a natural fluidity of tempo. There are also some extremely imaginative touches in the Finale: for example, the horn’s menacing stopped notes, and the mysteriously wispy washes of string colour that bring the Symphony to a close. Fischer takes the movement at a commendably lively speed, and he builds up quite a head of steam in the big orchestral climaxes.

Far more problematic is the first movement. The two wind chords that begin the work sound static with little sense of propelling us headlong into the Symphony’s dynamic opening melody. Admittedly, Fischer shapes this idea with a beautiful sense of line, but the necessary forward momentum is missing, and there is a lack of rhythmic urgency in the accompanying passage work. Unfortunately, this rather underwhelming opening casts a blight on the movement as a whole which seems curiously bereft of emotional tension.

In contrast, the performance of the Second Serenade is entirely enjoyable. Fischer coaxes his Budapest wind players to deliver some beautifully mellifluous playing, especially in the slow movement and the minuet, and there is an irresistible lightness of touch in the Finale. Channel Classics’s recorded sound is exemplary, but there are more convincing performances of Brahms 3.

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Erik Levi