BEETHOVEN Complete Symphonies (Fischer)
If you’re after a rationale behind this extraordinary set of performances, Fischer himself provides one in the booklet interview accompanying the CDs. ‘I need to find out why a piece of music was written’, he says, continuing: ‘It is not sufficient merely to follow Beethoven’s instructions, as this may not suffice to convince the orchestra and the audience. I have to feel it in my body why it was so important to him. And not only that, I have to want what he wanted, make his will my own.’ And you can take him at his word.
While I’d hesitate to recommend his set with the excellent Danish Chamber Orchestra (‘copyrighted’ 2016 19) as a first or last stop library-wise, it certainly makes for a pretty daring alternative viewpoint, what with its underlined dynamics (including unorthodox crescendos), unusual pauses for breath, striking tempos (the fleet-footed and brilliantly played finales to Symphonies Nos 1 and 4) and tempo changes, and moments of high drama, such as you’ll find at the centre of the Pastoral’s first movement and the first movement of the Seventh.
In fact, the Seventh’s first movement would prove a pretty revealing sampling track. The opening chords wield the hammer with a vengeance and rhythms are buoyant; but come the little repeated phrase ‘tails’ at 5'05", Fischer pulls the tempo right back in an attempt to increase a sense of suspense. Then there are the underlined accents at around 10'00" and boldly converging string lines soon after, like a bust-up at what Wagner called ‘Apotheosis of the Dance’. A similar sort of thing happens in the coda, whereas the Scherzo goes off like a rocket (the Trio is swift too, though not excessively so) and in the fully fired-up finale those spatially divided violin desks convince you that Beethoven’s antiphonal scoring was aimed with a purpose. It’s madness not to separate them.
The opening of the Eighth is cleanly tapered, the jabbing accents just before the end of the exposition (and at the beginning of the development) sounding jazzily syncopated. This is an Eighth that glistens and dances, a supplement to the Seventh; you can understand why Beethoven loved it so much. Under Fischer the finale is especially interesting: at 1'12", those quietly teasing little references back to the main theme, he pulls back so as to magnify the sense of play. It works, that’s for sure, but how many times would you want to hear it that way? A similar ploy interrupts the flow at 5'03". Fischer shapes the Second Symphony’s opening Adagio molto most effectively, and the ensuing Allegro is truly con brio. Interesting too that the accents in the Scherzo’s Trio (initially at 1'45"), are played as written: so often, they’re ignored.
The Fifth is high in drama, the first movement dynamic and angrily assertive. Minor hesitations make their mark in the development section – no problem once in a while, but as standard? Not sure. Fischer has a winning way with Beethoven’s slow movements and the Fifth’s Andante con moto is no exception: the exchange between clarinet and bassoon over gently pulsing strings from 4'32" is magical, and so is the little woodwind cadenza soon afterwards. The Pastoral’s ‘Scene by the Brook’ enjoys muted strings, as per Bärenreiter’s Urtext edition, and in the ‘Pesasant’s Merrymaking’, the central episode (1'35"), Fischer intensifies the rustic mood by having his lower strings employ racy portamentos, and that really does work.
In the Eroica there’s a sudden pulling-back at 1'46" into the first movement and at 2'17", just before the close of the (repeated) exposition, those hammered chords which under Fischer gradually gain in loudness and emphasis. The Fourth is even more bizarre: in the first movement’s switch from Adagio to Allegro vivace the approach is so trigger-happy that the two rocketing sets of five-note demisemiquavers on violins (2'17") are completely indistinguishable. On balance, perhaps the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies come off best, but beware the sudden loud timpani thwack at 2'03" into No 7’s Allegretto. The explosive timps-dominated ruckus at the centre of the Ninth’s first movement is impressive and when it comes to the finale, the start of the march features an amusingly flatulent-sounding contrabassoon. Incidentally, the line-up of soloists includes a countertenor in place of a mezzo-soprano, not that the switch is in any way conspicuous.
Now don’t get me wrong: I find these performances utterly fascinating, though it would be next to impossible to offer a comprehensive catalogue of the various colourful twists and turns that characterise Fischer’s performances (there are far too many of them). If you’re schooled in – and wedded to – such old-school ‘greats’ as Toscanini, Jochum, Klemperer, Wand, Davis, Haitink and others then you’ll likely be outraged. No bad thing in my book. Be brave enough to oppose your convictions rather than slavishly follow them. After all, if fearless mavericks of yore such as Mengelberg, Stokowski, Furtwängler and others could push the interpretative boat out, why not Adám Fischer? The recorded sound is excellent.