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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73 [41:16]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)

Symphonic Variations Op.78 [25:43]
The Bohuslav Martinů Philharmonic/Stan Fisher

Recorded at the concert hall of the Bohuslav Martinů Philharmonic, Zlin, Czech Republic. Recording dates are not given.
MARK MASTERS 3955-MCD [66:59]

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This recording of two orchestral warhorses is an obvious vanity job and smacks of it from the get-go. Not that there is anything at all wrong with an artist putting his stamp on music he loves and financing the disc himself. In fact, this kind of project seems very much the wave of the future, and frankly, it is an excellent way for those of us who are a little saturated with the standard repertoire to be able to experience interesting new or seldom performed music. That little set up then allows me to beg the question: Why this music and why this release?

Stan Fisher is a professorial type of musician, a "full professor" at Arcadia University in Nova Scotia. I put the full professor in quotes because his biography, with its frequent use of his academic title belies the kind of resume padding for which college professors who also perform are notorious. Again, that is not to diminish his academic or professional accomplishments in the least; rather, it is to point out that I have always been of the opinion that one’s music-making should reveal one’s artistic abilities without the need for print material loaded with titles and lists of certificates.

On to the music. The danger of anyone releasing a recording of a Brahms symphony is that the competition is daunting, and you had better be absolutely sure that you have something original to say about the score. Dr. Fisher does not. In fact he sets the cause back a few decades with this uninspired and plodding reading. Brahms had a special gift for memorable melodies and grand structures, and Fisher never gets past the rehearsal hall in his opening movement. From the sound of the orchestra, he has a fine set of tools with which to work and they are never put to their intended use.

The opening Allegro is so non troppo that the music never leaves the ground. The lovely gestures of the violins sound disconnected and have no arch and sweep, as though the sections were taking a slow and deliberate practice tempo in order to get all the notes right. When the secondary theme appears, Fisher allows it only to plod along, and there is no sense that this might just be a song. We never get to hear any of the wonderful forward motion of say, Abbado’s reading with the Berliners, nor do we get the splendidly subtle rubato so prevalent in Klemperer’s or Karajan’s several wonderful interpretations. The winds deliver a pleasant enough tone, but again, they are never given a chance to really sing, as phrasing overall in this movement is non-existent. There is no effort made from the podium to affect a rise and fall in the melodic lines.

The inner movements fare a bit better and are in fact quite passable. However, the finale quickly dies on the vine suffering from the same maladies that killed the opening.

Dvořák’s interesting Symphonic Variations get a better treatment, but then again, the score is not nearly as complicated. The form itself leads to an ease of interpretation, filled as it is with shorter sections that do not require the kind of structural thought that is completely vital in Brahms. This performance is rather elegant and well turned, and Fisher seems a good deal more at home with it than he does with the Brahms.

Production values are hit and miss. Mark Custom Recordings is a firm that records for hire, and issues some very worthy recordings on its in-house label. Sound quality is therefore quite superb, and read ahead in these pages for a review of a superb wind serenade disc that should appear shortly.

However, given that the company is obliged to release what the person paying the bills wants, they risk a dud from time to time. The program booklet is stuffed with an overlong essay from the conductor about his experience with the Czech Republic. It is a charming enough read, but really belongs on a blog more than in a program note. Speaking of which, the skimpy one page that is devoted to the music is all but worthless, totally lacking scholarship and obviously cranked out on the fly to fulfill some sense of obligation to the academic set who would demand some commentary on the scores.

As much as I am in favor of independent recording projects, this one was ill conceived and is not worthy of the cash outlay, especially when there are world-class performances of the same music widely available at bargain prices. Sorry, this one gets a veto.

Kevin Sutton


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