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thetimes.co.uk Geoff Brown
Iván Fischer’s recordings with his exceptional Budapest Festival Orchestra usually include a personal booklet note. This album of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony is no exception. “Bruckner,” he writes, “is the saint, the tzadik, the bodhisattva, the guru among composers. He is the most purest and most capable of religious ecstasy.”

Thus set up, some listeners might feel they should only listen kneeling in prayer. That isn’t necessary. Though Fischer’s basic point is apt (Bruckner’s symphonies haven’t been called “cathedrals in sound” for nothing), the conductor’s impulses actually lead Bruckner away from eternal verities, or at least the chillier kind. The Bruckner offered here is warm, humane, with almost a kick in his step. This is a cathedral, you might say, with an Austrian coffee house attached.

The warmth in part comes from the way the orchestra plays. To use a German term, it’s gemütlich: cosy and friendly, qualities instantly audible as horns, cellos and violas, joined at the hips, relish the first movement’s long-legged opening theme. Phrasing also plays its part, flecked with little fluctuations and hesitations, perfect for keeping the music’s discourse fluid and emphasising Bruckner’s Central European roots. All lovely to hear in these days of identikit orchestras.

Another factor, and a more problematic one, is Fischer’s choice of speeds. The adagio, a memorial to Bruckner’s departed idol, Wagner, last some 18 minutes: a blink of an eye next to Sergiu Celibidache’s half an hour (he was always a maestro of extremes). Fischer’s fleeter pace definitely keeps the sorrows tender, though grandeur is lost along the way.

The matter becomes more worrying in the finale, the trickiest of the movements to control. In the opening allegro Fischer had generated a superbly engineered performance, with tension growing steadily. Here we needed something similar to clinch the symphony’s argument. But speeds are too breathless. We climb Bruckner’s mountains with too much ease, then have no time to admire the view. It’s frustrating, and not conducive to religious ecstasy. Still, listen to the golden sounds of Fischer and his Budapest orchestra: they really do make good coffee.

 

Photo: Sonja Werner