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Review: Beethoven, Symphonies 1 & 5, Ivan Fischer / Budapest Festival Orchestra

Review – Beethoven Symphony 1 & 5, Fischer, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Channel Classics

The High Arts Review Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

This is an excellent recording of both symphonies.

Under Fischer, the First receives an imposing performance. By following fleet tempi, the Budapest Festival Orchestra manages to produce a rich, weighty sound that has its roots in the romantic style of the great conductors of the past.

It is a valid approach, perfectly executed – my only complaint is that it lacks the dynamic contrasts of many HIP recordings. I am not implying that I would have preferred a period orchestra, but other conductors have managed to sound both weighty and dynamically varied at the same time, and for pure perfection, I’d have liked more prominent timpani in the last two movements. (Listen to the excellent recording of Barenboim with the Staatskapelle Berlin who makes this music really dance with slightly faster tempos and accentuated percussion.)

As for the 5th, this is a uniformly outstanding performance. It’s been a while since we’ve had a recording of this warhorse in such full-bodied sound, reminding us of the bolder, pre-HIP accounts – the ones that were the norm before all the period movement frenzy began. And here the solid, rich sound does not imply stodginess because Fischer makes sure to bring out every single detail and retain the weighty instrumental forces at the same time.

If I had to nitpick, I would say that the conductor could have used a more flexible style, but this is only a personal concern: the overall approach is more classical than impulsive, with Fischer avoiding any risks (for that check out the recent Janowski). But being on the safe side here doesn’t mean lack of excitement.

When it comes to following the score and the latest HIP trends, it is hard to find a performance where every single detail is so ideally performed and captured, as in this recording. In fact, both textural clarity and detail are naturally more present compared to Kleiber, for instance (to pick a legendary account). And that says a lot about the overall excellence of this release.

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Reference recordings:
Beethoven 1st: Barenboim/Staatskapelle Berlin (Warner)
Beethoven 5th: Karajan/BPO (DG)

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