BEETHOVEN Symphonies 1 & 5 (Fischer)
Iván Fischer leads a polished and powerful account of Beethoven’s Fifth, although he makes a few odd interpretative choices along the way. The opening Allegro con brio is propulsive and grippingly tense. It’s also remarkably clear-textured given that the Budapest Festival Orchestra’s strings dig in with such gusto; the woodwind parts still shine through. And Fischer illuminates key structural facets such as the seismic harmonic change at the beginning of the development section (around 2'49"), which he registers with a stark shift in orchestral tone colour.
I’m drawn in by the sense of unfolding drama the conductor finds in the Andante con moto’s variations, and how he does so without disturbing its essential poise (reminding us that Beethoven did at one point think of marking the movement Andante quasi menuetto). And although I’m perplexed by his decision to interpret the third movement’s many poco ritardando markings as molto ritardando, he otherwise gives the music both tautness and swagger, aided by some marvellously potent playing from the horns. In the finale, there’s a welcome hint of struggle mixed in with the jubilation (listen to the trumpets’ painful, stabbing triplets at 4'55"). I’m not convinced, however, that Fischer’s emphatic lengthening of the three opening chords works well – or, at least, not when it’s done every time the theme appears (Jansons lengthens these, too, but only on their first appearance). Perhaps it’s unfair for me to grumble when Fischer and the BFO bring us so close to this symphony’s spiritual essence, but I think it’s because their performance is so eloquent and purposeful that such details seem all the more distracting.
Certainly, the contrast here between the Fifth and First Symphonies could hardly be more pronounced. In a booklet note, the conductor writes: ‘This album represents the important journey from the classical to the romantic view of a symphony’, which may explain why his account of Op 21 is so relatively well-mannered. The BFO play with elegant vigour in the outer movements but I believe the music needs far greater punch; more often than not, Fischer softens or ignores those twitchy, off-beat sforzandos that make Beethoven sound like Beethoven. The Menuetto is strangely sedate – particularly with Nelsons’s mad dash still ringing in my ears – and while the Andante cantabile con moto is played with beautiful, singing string tone, I find it rather stiffly phrased. Recommended (with the aforementioned caveats) for the Fifth.