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Bruckner: Symphony No. 7 in E Major – Budapest Festival Orch./ Ivan Fischer – Channel Classics

BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 7 in E Major – Budapest Festival Orch./ Ivan Fischer – Channel Classics multichannel SACD CCS SA 33714, 56:40  [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] (7/8/14) ****:

The Symphony No. 7 is probably the most popular of Bruckner’s symphonies, and there is a large catalog on CD and vinyl. This offering, from Channel Classics and conductor Ivan Fischer is a superb performance of this symphony, and in the Channel Classics tradition, a very well-recorded one.

The history of this symphony on record goes back to a Polydor release on 1924. Adolf Hitler also has a history with this symphony, and he pronounced it an equal to the Beethoven 9th. A recording of the second movement adagio was played in on the radio in 1943 when the Germans were defeated at Stalingrad. The adagio is also notable for the first use of the bass tuba, invented by Wagner.

The symphony is interesting from a structural standpoint. It opens with a lovely cello passage. There is almost no percussion, except in the 3rd movement which is heavy with tympani. The performance recorded here, with the Budapest Festival Orchestra which Fischer founded, is robust and precise. It’s a fine match for the recording prowess of Channel Classics, who seems to always bring its best game to the recording sessions. The 5.0 channel recording is mostly focused up front where it should be. The rear channels have a hint of ambience. The microphone placement seems designed to highlight sections of the orchestra in a geometric space, without spotlighting instruments unduly. It’s a natural balance that is pleasing to listen to.

Channel Classics always seems to get the strings right, and this recording is no exception. Both the SACD and CD layer sound very smooth with the strings never grating, something that can’t be said for every recording I hear.

I’ve also enjoyed von Karajan’s recording of the 7th on DGG. It was his last recording, and he played it with bravado. Still, this latest recording has a great to deal to like in terms of performance and a reference level recording from the masters at Channel Classics.

—Mel Martin

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