Mahler: Symphony No. 9 - Fischer
Channel Classics CC SSA 36115
Classical - Orchestral
Mahler: Symphony No. 9
Budapest Festival Orchestra
The 9th is a heartbreaking symphony, perhaps in many ways. It starts with an arythmic heartbeat which moves colourfully from one instrument to the next. The choice of instruments is extraordinary and somewhat sinister: cello, horn, harp, muted horn. Mahler immediately shows us his most mature, masterful handling of orchestral colours. Soon we realise that it is merely an introduction to a beautiful but heartbreakingly sad melody played by the violins, saying Leb wohl! Farewell! A most complex, extremely forward-looking, visionary symphony follows, occasionally brutally interrupted by those arythmic beats and leading finally to the most tragic and beautiful ending Mahler ever composed: what he shares with us is his fading awareness of our beloved world.
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Review by Graham Williams - May 20, 2015
One imagines that it must be a daunting prospect for any conductor to contemplate the recording of a cycle of Mahler symphonies, particularly in view of the abundant recorded legacy available from some of the greatest conductors of the past such as Walter, Klemperer, Bernstein, Solti, Abbado..…. the list goes on. Ivan Fischer's cycle of these works with his hand-picked Budapest Festival Orchestra has emerged gradually over the past ten years, and even with this outstanding new SACD of the Symphony No. 9 we have the enticing prospect of Symphonies 3,7 and 8 still to come. The slow gestation period of this Mahler cycle has meant that Fischer has been able to refine and deepen his interpretations of these works with his marvellous orchestra in the concert hall before committing them to disc in the studio. The magnificent results are plain to hear in what many consider to be the apogee of Mahler's symphonic output.
Death had always been a recurrent motive in Mahler symphonies, but by the time he came to write his 9th Symphony it had become a dominant feature, and the work's dismissal of life expressed in music of heart-rending beauty has led some interpreters to adopt a maudlin approach to parts of the Symphony. Not so here, where Fischer's sensibly paced and well characterised performance encapsulates a degree of stoic acceptance of death without any loss of the work's essential emotional poignancy.
From the hesitant opening bars of the 1st movement Fischer's masterly control of texture, balances and dynamics is self evident. The basic tempo he adopts is a flowing andante and he moves with absolute assurance from the calm of the opening theme to the darker more troubled waters that emerge as the movement progresses. The first major climax, some five minutes in, subsides menacingly with some of the most powerful and doom-laden trombones on any recording I have heard (6.16) and Mahler's allusions to the Johann II Strauss waltz 'Freut Euch des Lebens' (Enjoy life) that appear from 8.05 seem particularly poignant in Fischer's hands. The finesse of the Budapest Festival Orchestra's playing is unmatched – supple strings, expressive winds and opulent, but incisive brass – this orchestra has it all.
The responsiveness and corporate virtuosity of the Budapest musicians is again displayed to the full in the Symphony's two central movements. The gawky 2nd movement – a mixture of Ländler and Waltz - proceeds at a brisk, but not hectic pace. Fischer expertly negotiates his way through the movement's many contrasting episodes and tempo changes whilst never over-stressing its implicit grotesque and ironic nature. The 'Rondo-Burleske' is certainly hard driven but the complex counterpoint always remains clear thanks to the superb articulation of these players. The tranquil central episode, surely one of Mahler's finest passages, is handled with the utmost sensitivity and Fischer keeps a cool head as the orchestra hurtles to the frenzied final bars.
The opening of the final 'Adagio' perhaps leans a fraction towards andante rather than Mahler's marked 'Adagio. Sehr langsam und noch zurückhaltend' but very quickly any initial doubts are swept away by Fischer's natural unfolding of the long melodic lines and the searing intensity of the orchestral playing. After the final passionate climax, the gradual fading into silence engenders a wondrous sense of peace and serenity.
Recording engineers Jared Sacks and Hein Dekker have – as so often in the Palace of Arts, Budapest – produced a 5.0 DSD recording of the highest quality. The listener is presented with a wonderfully coherent sound stage, full of detail and a rounded ambience that allows Ivan Fischer's compelling interpretation of this Symphony to reach the listener unimpeded by any technical limitations.
Altogether an unmissable release.
Copyright © 2015 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net