BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1 in C minor; Variations on a Theme by Haydn; Hungarian Dances No. 14 – Budapest Festival Orchestra/ Ivan Fischer – Channel Classics CCS SA 28309, 67:28 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ***½:
Famed conductor Hans von Bülow called Brahms’ First Symphony “Beethoven’s Tenth.” For many Brahms fans it is their favorite of his four. I recall a reviewer in San Francisco who tried to collect every single recording of Brahms First that had been made. I alerted him to one obscure one he had missed. Some of the classics are Klemperer, Toscanini and Bernstein. The work’s opening series of timpani whacks were pegged by Clark Johnsen in his book on The Wood Effect as a test for absolute polarity.
The Budapest Festival Orchestra has made quite a splash with their recordings for Channel Classics, and while this one is good – Fischer imbuing the symphony with its own special personality – it is not one of their best. The opening timpani whacks, for example, lack impact, and some of the performance seems too laid back and relaxed – not dramatic, almost like chamber music. That approach actually works well for the Haydn Variations, which seem to me the hit of this disc. (That one usually bores me terribly.) The second movement of the Symphony is quite nice, and the final movement becomes more powerful and dramatic-sounding. Some listeners, however, may find the entire performance to be right up their alley.
Sonics are not quite at the usual Channel Classics level, a bit muffled to my ears. The notes and presentation packaging are well done.
– John Sunier