BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4, Hungarian Dances 11, 3, 7 and Instr. Folk Music – Budapest Festival Orch./ Ivan Fischer – Channel Classics

BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4, Hungarian Dances 11, 3, 7 and Instrumental Folk Music – Budapest Festival Orch./ Ivan Fischer – Channel Classics multichannel SACD CCD SA 35315, 51:26 (11/13/15) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:

Channel Classics has brought us another superb multichannel Brahms recording with Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra. The company has already released Fischer conducting the Brahms First and Second Symphonies, which are in my collection and both are superb. Fischer has done well with both his Mahler and Brahms recordings, and this new Fourth Symphony is no exception.

The Fourth is the last of Brahms’ symphonic output. It premiered in 1885 to mostly good notices. Brahms himself conducted the premiere, after testing a piano version on small audiences.

The performance here is emotional and precise without going over the top. Fischer always seems to conduct with a freshness that does not betray the composer. That’s the case here. As I listen I know Brahms is filtered through Fischer and it all sounds quite fresh, but he never extends beyond the boundaries of the composition. The Budapest Festival Orchestra is more than up to the task of playing this symphony, and they have excelled on the other recordings I’ve heard of them.

I always expect a superb recording from Channel Classics, and there is no let down here. The strings are beautiful in the SACD layer, just slightly muted on the CD. Separations are realistic, and the recording presents a solid image across the front. If I can be picky, I thought the surrounds were a bit too loud, giving me a bit more of the hall ambiance than I’d like, but that’s subjective. It’s a fine, reference quality recording. The disc also contains 3 Hungarian Dances by Brahms, and a snippet of folk music the composer quoted in his Hungarian Dances.

Of course the major attraction is the Fourth Symphony. All we need is for the Third Symphony from Channel Classics and the cycle will be complete.

—Mel Martin

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