This is an excellent recording of the Great C Major, but it
takes a bit of getting used to. Iván Fischer's main focus
is on the dance origins of the music, and he makes sure that
the rhythms of those dances always come through. That makes
for some wonderfully characterful playing, the music continually
pulled around to give the dances life, while also being grounded
by heavily accented downbeats.
It is an interpretation that is all about the moment, and the
symphonic coherence of the work is never treated as a pressing
concern. True enough, the piece is finely crafted, and remains
cogent even when the conductor is not making any special efforts
to link the larger sections. Even so, it is a risk that only
just pays off.
One of the main reasons why it does work is that the players
are all on Fischer's side. The performance standards here are
exceptional, but more importantly, the conductor is able to
communicate his unusual conception of the work to the orchestra
in such a way that they are able to make it seem intuitive.
All that is left is for the listener to put their preconceptions
to one side; it might take a few repeat listenings before that
You could argue that the reading lacks grandeur, but Fischer
reminds us that the opulence of this symphony is always provisional
and that it owes as much to Schubert's earlier chamber music
as it does to Beethoven's Ninth. There are occasional episodes
that are performed with symphonic breadth. The triplet ascending
passages in the main theme of the finale, for example, open
out into wide vistas, and while the dynamics in this last movement
often seem micromanaged, they also articulate long and coherent
build-ups or transitions.
The orchestra is a hybrid of modern and period instruments.
Fischer opts for narrow bore trombones and hand horns, but the
rest of the orchestra is thoroughly modern. This sets up fascinating
tensions between new and old. The opening, for example, is played
on hand horns, the players audibly straining against the unevenness
of their instruments. Then the (modern) woodwind enter and everything
suddenly becomes easier and more laid back. It is a great effect,
which Fischer describes in these terms: "Only when the oboe
takes over is the unevenness polished away, removing limitations
and barriers and transporting us into a magical realm of eternity."
If you are an advocate of period instrument performance, you
may take issue with Fischer's views. For example, is a hand
horn deficient for associating different sound qualities with
specific pitches? Fischer goes on to compare the struggle of
hand horn players against the unevenness of their instruments
with the struggles of handicapped athletes. That strikes me
as controversial, and as these views underpin the reading of
the symphony, you might find yourself objecting to the recording
on ideological grounds.
It is worth bearing in mind though, that Fischer always keeps
things light. Everything here is dancing and optimism. He makes
the dance connection explicit by including at the end Schubert's
Five German Dances and Seven Trios with Coda D89. It
is trivial music really, and if it appeared at the end of any
other reading of the C Major Symphony it would seem wholly inappropriate.
The fact that it fits well after Fischer's reading says much
about the rustic charm that he finds in every phrase of the
The SACD sound quality is up to the usual high standards of
Channel Classics. The liner is informative, although the 17
(including the ads for other releases) photographs of Fischer
himself on the packaging come worryingly close to hagiography.
On the other hand, he has certainly put his personal stamp on
this recording, so it is probably more logical to put his face
on the front cover than Schubert's.