The Beethoven Seventh, plus scattered oddments, adds up to a
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 09/13/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"When the Budapest Festival Orch. was recording for Philips, they were greatly admired, but Ivan Fischer and his ensemble got stuck in the groove of Hungarian music, chiefly Bartok and Liszt, wth a scattering of Dvorak. Now they've branched out on a smaller independent label. Their Mahler Sym. #2 won praise last year (I wasn't a great admirer, though), and now we have an imaginative program of "Beethoven and his contemporaries," meaning Rossini, Weber, and Wilms. Wilms? Even Wikipedia hasn't heard of Johann Wilhelm Wilms, who was born in 1772, two years after Beethoven; he worked primarily in Amsterdam (wilms wrote the Dutch national anthem).
To get to Wilms, however, we move through very familiar territory. First the Beethoven Seventh, which Fischer plays traditionally but with fresh touches. His Budapest orchestra isn't a virtuoso group, so this isn't a powerhouse reading from Vienna or Berlin, yet Fischer's ideas are in line with German stalwarts like Bohm, Jochum, and Kempe. It's rather late in the day for that kind of backward glance -- I wish Fischer had more passion and originality. Next comes the melting slow movement from Weber's Clarinet Concerto #1, executed with beauty and intensity by Akos Acs. The energy level definitely picks up, and it needed to.
The Rossini overture, 'L'Italiana in Algeri,' should have come first, I suppose. Fischer gives us a serious slow introduction, played limpidly but without much tension. The romping allegro that follows is nicely done but at a rather low energy level once again. Happily, the orchestra supplies plenty of brio and color. Which brings us to Wilms, to wit the concluding Rondo from his Grand Symphony #4. This turns out to be workaday Rococo stuff, closer to early Haydn than anything later. The music skips along with consierable sparkle and was included, I venture, to illustrate how revolutionary Beethoven really was, given that a close contemporary was looking backward fifty years.
I am on Fischer's side because he brought post-Soviet Hungary its first top-flight orchestra, and this is a pleasant CD. I don't mean to damn with faint praise, but faint praise is what I have to offer."
An Essential Interpretation
THREEWIRE | Collegeville, PA USA | 12/03/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Every now and then a recording comes along that makes you feel like you're hearing a old warhorse for the first time. For me, this is such a recording. My quibbles with the recording are minor (the brass and tympani seem a bit recessed for my tastes), but the overall balance is very natural and the soundstage has admirable dimension. Recording quality aside, the performance itself of the 7th is truly remarkable. Passion and precision are appropriate descriptors. There are so many subtle lines illuminated by Fischer's cogent interpretation and his fine Budapest band's stylish performance, I was drawn in instantly and held rapt until the final notes died away. The filler material is just that -- filler. The 7th is the real draw here. I think it ranks alongside Kleiber's famous recording as my favorite. It speaks volumes about this performance that it stands out amongst such a crowded and illustrious catalogue.
If you are willing to accept that the filler material adds little to the program overall, I think the brilliant performance of the 7th alone justifies the price."