Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
Just when you thought you'd heard it all, along comes a new release that reinvigorates your faith in the ability of great performances to make even familiar pieces sound new. So it is with this stunning Mahler 2 from Ivan Fischer and Channel Classics. Before turning to the performance in detail, it's worth mentioning that the engineering quite simply sets a new standard in this work. Whether heard in regular stereo or SACD stereo or multichannel formats, the realism, atmosphere, lifelike balances, dynamic range, and sheer visceral impact have to be heard to be believed. No other performance on disc
coveys quite the same "you are there" feeling of a musical event taking place in an acoustically flattering space. All of those special effects, particularly the offstage brass in the finale, project with ideal clarity and perfect naturalness. And if you thought, as I did, that the recent San Francisco performance under Michael Tilson Thomas was impressive in the closing pages, then you have to hear this--without question the most cosmically glorious finish yet captured on disc.
Great sound does a lot for Mahler, relying as he does on orchestral color to make many of his expressive points, but in the final analysis it's the interpretation that counts, and here Fischer confirms the very favorable impression he made in the Sixth Symphony with the same forces. First, he has a genuine feel for the score's texture. Listen, for example, to the end of the first-movement exposition, where a series of sighing violin glissandos descend into soft strokes of the deep tam-tam against trudging low strings and harps. Little touches like this reveal that the conductor understands Mahler's idiom--but Fischer doesn't stint on the big picture either. The entire first movement has tremendous drama, rising to a crushing climax at the moment of recapitulation, and featuring a truly ghostly coda, gaunt and full of dread.
The Andante flows at just the right tempo: the music has great emotion without ever turning mushy or sentimental. Fischer's handling of the scherzo is a thing of genius. Right from the beginning you may notice a difference in the way the clarinets play that obstinate, two-note figure over the bass drum and rute--staccato, then tenuto. Have a look at the score: this is exactly the accentuation that Mahler demands, only Fischer's is one of the very few performances to do it properly. There are few things more rewarding than hearing something revelatory, only to find that it comes from a faithful realization of the composer's original intentions. This performance is full of moments like that. Then there are the soulful trumpets in the trio, and a terrifying "cry of despair" climax. This is the real deal, folks.
Birgit Remmert delivers an affecting, rapt account of Urlicht, and the finale erupts, as it must, with shocking immediacy. There are too many impressive moments to mention at length at both ends of the dynamic spectrum, including a pair of hair-raising percussion crescendos introducing the "dead march", those thrilling fortissimo horn triplets at the big climax before the first entry of the chorus, the vastly mysterious offstage cadenza between flute and piccolo in the orchestra and offstage brass and timpani, and the unforgettable sweetness of Lisa Milne's voice as it floats free of the larger mass of singers. Then of course there's that amazingly grand conclusion, with bells and tam-tams pealing ecstatically against a shimmering background of strings and organ. And all of it is perfectly paced, played with 100 percent commitment by Fischer and his excellent orchestra.
Finally, a word about timbre and style. Orchestras such as the Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics spend a lot of PR capital on the notion that they somehow represent an authentic, central European sound--and in some music this is certainly true. But not in Mahler, at least not most of the time. What's needed, and what Fischer gets from his players, isn't just the dark, rich brass sound nesting on a warm cushion of strings, but all of that plus the ability to project those special textural colorations that give Mahler's music its distinctive fingerprint. That means characterful contributions from the winds (just compare this scherzo to Vienna's glacially boring recent work for Boulez on DG) and percussion that doesn't hold back at climaxes and remains clearly audible even in the softest passages.
Are there any defects? Maybe a couple. It would have been nice, for example, to hear a bit more wood in the string section's "struck with the bow" episode at the climax of the first movement, and the gentle timpani duet before the scherzo's "cry of despair" might have been a touch more prominent. But the fact is that in a work this complex, with such detailed instructions to the players in virtually every bar, no one gets everything. What matters is that the conductor and orchestra realize so much of what is there that they make the music wholly their own, to the point that what isn't heard can be accepted and credited as a personal interpretive choice rather than a lapse. By this criterion, there are no lapses here. This performance is as good as it gets; a reference recording that should remain so for many years to come. [11/29/2006]
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 2 in C minor "Resurrection" by Gustav Mahler
Lisa Milne (Soprano),
Birgit Remmert (Alto)
Hungarian Radio Chorus,
Budapest Festival Orchestra
Written: 1888/1896; Germany
Date of Recording: 09/2005
Venue: Palace of Arts, Budapest, Hungary
Length: 81 Minutes 52 Secs.
Notes: This selection is a stereo recording.
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