LABELS: Channel Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Ivan Fischer Conducts Brahms: Symphony No. 4
WORKS: Symphony No. 4; Hungarian Dances Nos 3, 7 & 11; folk music
PERFORMER: Budapest Festival Orchestra/ Iván Fischer
CATALOGUE NO: CCS SA 35315 (hybrid CD/SACD)
It may seem odd to praise a Brahms Four for being like chamber music, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard a recording of this symphony that comes so close to the spirit of rich but intimate masterpieces like the Piano Quintet or the Clarinet Quintet. The very opening, so difficult to bring off in performance – it’s more like a late piano piece transcribed for orchestra – is beautifully judged here, with just a hint of a pause on the first note. And throughout Fischer is able to achieve something like a pianist’s rubato without the sense of distortion that so often results.
There’s some beautiful dialogue between instrumental voices, especially among the woodwind. Sympathetic recording helps, of course, but you can tell this is an orchestra whose players listen to each other intently. The larger picture is always what matters. The ebb and flow of passion – the Romantic Brahms – is nevertheless at ease with the Classicising side of his character. In the finale the roots in Bach’s great solo violin Chaconne are evident, but at the same time this sounds like a tragedy born of its times – as though Brahms’s initial enthusiasm for German unification had yielded to a deeper intuition of where it might all end.
The three Hungarian Dances are a pleasant but hardly necessary add-on – the Symphony would have been recommendable in itself. It may not displace the classic Carlos Kleiber on DG, but it comes close. Stephen Johnson