The playing on this disc is so beautiful that it will take your breath away. The silky sound of the soft strings in the trios of the scherzo and funeral march, light as a feather but never lacking in body, is amazing. In the lyrical second subject of the finale, Iván Fischer manages the gradual crescendo to the melodic climax with amazing finesse. There are countless memorable touches of color: the fruity bass clarinet in the first movement, the soft tam-tam strokes in the third, and at the other end of the dynamic scale, the powerfully pounding timpani at the finale’s two triumphant climaxes.
There are three moments I noticed that may be considered questionable. The triangleRead more player comes and goes in the first movement, maybe because he makes too much of the difference between fortissimo and merely forte. You might think this trivial, and in a sense it is, but if you know the symphony really well (or have played the percussion parts countless times in concert, as I have), you may find it distracting. Fischer’s generous rubato and heavily sculpted phrasing in the trio of the scherzo veers close to mannerism, despite the gorgeousness of it all. Finally, at the very end, Fischer doubles the tempo for the last fanfare. It’s very exciting, particularly as the orchestra’s horns and other brass really do themselves proud, and for just that reason a slightly slower speed might have been preferable.
None of these issues justifies any reduction in the rating. There is absolutely nothing to gripe about otherwise. As with all the performances from Fischer and his orchestra, conductor and ensemble operate as a single organism. You may or may not like everything that he does, but the legitimacy of his ideas and the conviction with which he projects them are never in question. If I have a slight preference for the recent Honeck/Pittsburgh recording on Exton it’s only because of what strikes me as its slightly greater feeling of spontaneity. Certainly Channel Classics’ SACD sonics are just as vividly realistic, and I know this performance will provide many, many years of pleasure. It’s a great time to be a Mahler fan.
-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
MAHLER Symphony No. 1 • Iván Fischer, cond; Budapest Festival O • CHANNEL CLASSICS 33112 (SACD: 55:45)
Iván Fischer’s rendition of Mahler’s First demonstrates just how beautifully the Budapest Festival Orchestra can play the piece. This is the most gorgeously sonorous version of the symphony I’ve heard since Maurice Abravanel’s with the Utah Symphony. Fischer gives us velvety violins (divided left and right), warm and mellow winds, and glowing brass. But there is much more to Fischer’s Mahler First than a romp for the orchestra. This is a perceptive and unique interpretation, to which I have listened six times yet feel that I am just scratching the surface. Wagner casts a long shadow over this account of the first movement. The opening is richly evocative of a forest scene, with distant calls of hunters in the trumpets. The horns here echo another nature vista, namely the opening of Das Rheingold. Fischer’s tempo for the main section appears based on rendering the tune, taken from Songs of a Wayfarer, singable. This way the melody doesn’t drag and perhaps is a little faster than we’re accustomed to hearing in recent years. Fischer phrases the tune, in all its appearances, with mellifluousness instead of earthiness. The transitions in this movement bear a resemblance to Siegfried Idyll, while the concluding passage has a tincture of Siegfried’s Rhine Journey. Has Mahler here, in a proto-Straussian way, made himself the hero of his own symphony?
In the second movement, Fischer shapes the tune in the A section like a drinking song with very basic harmony. Indeed the tune resembles the moment in act III, scene 2 of Götterdämmerung when Siegfried sings, “Drink, Gunther, drink! Your brother offers it to you!” The B section of the movement is filled with delightful insinuations and hesitations. Fischer makes the return of the A section almost breathless in its joy. The uncredited double bassist who opens the third movement plays quietly and in a spectral manner, casting a shadow over the whole A section. Fischer gives the klezmer episodes a deliciously offhand touch, as if the band has performed this music endlessly. According to Fischer’s comments, the B section is a Schubert Lied, perhaps a memory of Lindenbaum.
The wildness at the start of the last movement echoes the same moment in Beethoven’s Ninth. Fischer makes the B section quietly romantic, basing his interpretation perhaps on the similarities to the Blumine movement Mahler omitted. When the work’s concluding theme is introduced, it leads to a passage that, in its savage harmonies, might have influenced Schoenberg. Forest colors preface a return of the B section’s theme, transfigured first quietly then loudly. The final return of the concluding theme is stately and resonant, as if all nature were speaking. Thus ends a strikingly individual Mahler First. The sound engineering on the CD layer is full and balanced, but a little misty. I was not able to listen to the SACD layer. The recordings of this symphony that I find the most convincing, and the most Mahlerian, are those by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, Bruno Walter and the Columbia Symphony, and Colin Davis and the Bavarian Radio Symphony. I would describe Fischer’s version, along with the Abravanel I mentioned earlier, as perceptive and warmly engaging, if perhaps not completely distilling the Mahlerian ethos. Yet, as Artur Schnabel said, there is music greater than any possible performance of it, and as such a work I welcome this Mahler First in the guise of Iván Fischer’s splendid reevaluation.
What can I possibly say?March 12, 2016By F. Blanco (Miami, FL)See All My Reviews"Like many of you, I'm a huge fan of the Mahler symphonies and own multiple recordings of 1, 2, 5, 6, and 9 as well as single recordings of 3, 7, 8, 10 and DLvdE. I do not pretend to be a musician, and my knowledge of musical terminology and performance practice is very basic. But I do know when something just feels right. And so it is with this particular recording of the Mahler First. Let me just say the recorded sound is nothing short of spectacular. Balanced, transparent, palpable and glorious, from the chamber-like orchestration to the full-on fortissimo climaxes. As far as the performance goes... well, I'll leave musical analysis to the critics and musicologists. I'll just say, the performance left me exhilarated. This is now my favorite of my recordings of this symphony. With Bernstein/Concertgebouw and Kubelik a tie for second. Get this recording and enjoy. You won't be disappointed."Report Abuse
Really InsightfulMarch 7, 2013By Richard J Wood (Avon, IN)See All My Reviews"I own many recordings of the Mahler symphonies, and this is the most insightful reading of the first that I have heard. I almost missed it on the air recently, since my usual FM station didn't start it until nearly midnight. Both my wife and I stayed up to hear the whole thing, because of the subtle insights into the music, and the virtuoso playing. I ordered it the next day."Report Abuse
BreathtakingJanuary 30, 2013By Linda McDougall (Vancouver, BC)See All My Reviews"I've many recordings of this symphony, being addicted to Mahler, and Claudio Abbado, but this recording almost breaks your heart with the sheer liquid beauty of almost every phrase. How these musicians, under their most gifted conductor, threw new light on to the entire work fills me with wonder. I actually hadn't wept before with the First Symphony! I can't go into technical detail, but it seems as if every emotional nuance has been lifted from the score and presented in a shimmering new light. Nor can I sound rational after listening to this astounding presentation. Mahler would have been overjoyed."Report Abuse