The Budapest wind band’s plangent edginess is the perfect contrast for the lean, lithe sound of the string choirs. Thirty measures into the andante, after the winds have told their solemn tale, the strings take the lead, singing of compassionate consolation with a sweetness irresistible to all but the truly tough. No wallowing in beautiful sound here. This is about expressive contours, emotional authenticity and directness.
The concluding chaconne creates a terrifying atmosphere, unlike any recording I know. Midway, in an exquisitely played interlude, the solo flute seems to wander aimlessly in despair. When the full ensemble reconvenes, there can be no doubt of the outcome. The end approaches with the inexorable finality of Greek drama.
As in other releases of their Brahms series, Fischer and the Hungarians offer a few deliciously spicy side dishes, consisting of Brahms Hungarian Dances, just to show how they’re done.
Now I’m nostalgic all over again for those two seasons of grace between the tenures of Slatkin and Eschenbach, when Fischer dwelt among us as interim conductor of the National Symphony.