Skip to main content

 Recording of the Week  Wagner from Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra

A stunning new Wagner disc from Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra to tell you about this week. There is a fair amount of Wagner out in this, his anniversary year – but this disc, mainly of orchestral music, is something really special.

Iván Fischer
Iván Fischer

The disc begins with the Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. It’s faster than many you’ll hear and beautifully lyrical (partly helped by the speed). Climaxes are well paced and never over-done while the brass play with a lovely rich sound throughout.

This is followed by Wagner’s symphonic poem Siegfried Idyll, which he wrote as a birthday present for his second wife Cosima in 1870, a year after the birth of their son Siegfried. Traces are heard of the third act of the opera Siegfried (which didn’t premiere until 1876) and the concluding love duet between Siegfried and Brünnhilde. Originally written for a chamber orchestra of just 13 players it is now often heard as it is here, in its much larger orchestral version.

However, Fischer and his Budapest players retain much of the chamber music quality in this recording, with wonderful balance and beautifully characterised wind solos. Fischer’s natural ebb and flow is hugely persuasive, knowing exactly when to push, and to hold, never overdoing the numerous really juicy moments, and creating a performance which is up there with the very best.

Following on are three substantial excerpts from Götterdämmerung – two purely orchestral (Siegfried’s Rhine Journey and Funeral March) and then the last twenty minutes of the whole opera (the so-called Immolation scene) where Brünnhilde lights and then rides into the funeral pyre which she has built for her beloved Siegfried, returning the gold to the Rhine and also signalling the end of the reign of the gods.

It is powerful stuff and one of the legendary passages in the operatic repertoire. It is sung here by Petra Lang who, while usually regarded as a mezzo, has no problem with the high notes, displaying laser-sharp accuracy and a thrilling power. But what impresses me even more are the tender moments where her more lyrical phrasing (no doubt much encouraged by Fischer) makes this particularly note-worthy. She has recently recorded the role of Brünnhilde in both Die Walküre and Götterdämmerung in Marek Janowski’s ongoing complete Ring des Nibelungen for PentaTone (both operas due out later this year). On the basis of this recording they’ll be well worth hearing.

Final words must go to the orchestra though who for me make this whole disc so special. I’ve mentioned the individually characterised wind solos already. I also love the string sound. They can do everything! – float, dance, sing, and play with a warmth and ravishingly smooth sound that is to die for. With restrained touches of portamento and beautiful over-arching phrasing (shaped so carefully by Fischer) they are almost without peer.

Meanwhile the brass are also very special. They have a bite where necessary but it is never a harsh sound, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so aware of a brass section’s ability to alter not just the volume of a sustained note, but also the colour and intensity of sound to such a degree. This applies to both individual solos and groups of players, and the effect is terrific.

Finally, as always, Channel Classics’s sound engineers Hein Dekker and Jared Sacks capture all this superbly, in both SACD (if you have the facility to enjoy it) and normal stereo.

To coincide with this release we’re also offering discounts of up to 20% off Ivan Fischer’s back catalogue of recordings. His partnership with the Budapest Festival Orchestra is proving to be one of the most fruitful anywhere in the world over recent years, and there are plenty of outstanding recordings in here to choose from.