Mahler: Symphony No. 3 - Ivan Fischer

Mahler: Symphony No. 3 - Ivan Fischer

Channel Classics  CCS SA 38817 (2 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral

Mahler: Symphony No. 3

Gerhild Romberger (alto)
Cantemus Children's Choir
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Budapest Festival Orchestra
Ivan Fischer (conductor)

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DSD recording
Reviews (1)

Review by Graham Williams - May 2, 2017

Ivan Fischer's survey of the Mahler Symphonies with his incomparable Budapest Festival Orchestra began with the release of the 6th Symphony in 2005 Mahler: Symphony No. 6 - Fischer that immediately marked him out as a Mahler interpreter of considerable stature. Subsequent highly praised releases of Symphonies 1, 2, 4, 5 and 9 over the past eight years have been eagerly awaited, and this latest release of Mahler's mighty 3rd Symphony, recorded in September 2016, will further cement his reputation as one of the most charismatic Mahler conductors of our time.

The public's appetite for more and more performances and recordings of Mahler's works shows no signs of abating, in spite of the availability of a plethora of versions that one might imagine would suit all tastes. There are, however, three main factors that make these Channel Classic recordings stand out in what is a very crowded field. First is Fischer's perceptive and probing musicianship, born of a long career on the podium, that ensures his interpretations possess an individuality stemming from a deep understanding of, and respect for, the music he conducts. The second factor is the character of the Budapest Festival Orchestra whose consummate musicians always play with a fierce and absolute commitment for their Musical Director and founder. Finally it is the superb state-of-the-art sound quality achieved by Jared Sacks in the fine acoustic of the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall, Palace of Arts, Budapest. The 5.0 channel DSD recording providing almost unrivalled realism, clarity and impact to the music – essential in Mahler.

It is also perhaps worth mentioning that Fischer's recordings are made in the wake of many live performances with his orchestra in concert halls across Europe, so the conductor and his players are able to refine their interpretations before finally committing them to disc.

The first of this two-disc SACD set contains the work's gigantic first movement (33.14) while the remainder of the work occupies the second SACD. This sensible division is adopted on most, though not all, versions – those by Chailly, Tilson Thomas and Boulez being three notable exceptions.

Fischer is fully cognizant of Mahler's marking, Kräftig; Entschieden (Vigorous; Decisive), for Part 1 of the Symphony. From the cleanly articulated horn fanfares that open the movement the forward thrust of his pacing is at once apparent. The lugubrious trombone solo is superbly delivered by the BFO player, thrillingly rasping on its first appearance and mellow at its re-appearance towards the end of the movement, and is just one example of the quality of the musicians that populate this orchestra. 'Summer marches in', the composer's original title for this section, is buoyant and joyous with considerable emphasis on the percussion – vividly reproduced cymbal clashes and uninhibited snare drum tattoos all add to the sense of a marching rabble that Mahler aimed for. Needless to say Fischer's arrangement of the orchestra with antiphonally seated violins, as Mahler would have expected, greatly enhances the lucidity of this complex and remarkable musical edifice.

The following movement with its lighter scoring is marked 'Tempo di Menuetto' and was originally subtitled “ What the flowers in the meadow tell me”. Its carefree pastoral serenity is eloquently conveyed here with many beautifully turned instrumental solos and subtle use of rubato while the scurrying fast sections testify to the virtuosity of the orchestra's strings.

Mahler's 'Comodo; Scherzando' is based initially on the theme from his setting of an allegorical 'Wunderhorn' song 'Ablösung im Sommer' about a nightingale and a cuckoo that has fallen to its death. Fischer adopts an appropriately easy-going tempo for the opening section of the movement and his players relish the humour and parody implicit in the music. The magical trio sections that feature an off-stage 'posthorn' (flügelhorn) are balanced with great care, the immaculately voiced solo instrument cushioned by soft violins providing one of many a breathtaking moments on this set.

In the fourth movement the human voice appears for the first time in the symphony with a setting of a passage from Nietzsche's philosophical novel 'Also sprach Zarathustra'. Here it is sung securely with commendably clear diction and sensitivity by the alto Gerhild Romberger. It could be argued that at a timing of 8.36 for this movement Fischer ignores Mahler's marking of 'Sehr langsam' yet if a conductor adopts too slow a tempo it can all too easily drag interminably or even fall apart. For this listener Fischer's faster pulse works in a way that some versions do not. In the orchestral passages he does adopt, without undue exaggeration, Mahler's strange marking of "hinaufziehen" for the striking oboe slides that many conductors ignore.

The brief fifth movement, a three-part song, introduces the ladies of the superb 'Chor des Bayerischen Rundunk and the Cantemus Children's Choir from Nyiregyháza who deliver their 'bimm bamms' with spirit and crisp rhythmic heft. Eventually human voices are left behind as Mahler's achingly beautiful final movement marked Langsam; Ruhevoll; Empfunden (Slowly; Peacefully; Expressively) begins on the strings. Here Fischer is much less overtly emotional than many of his rivals. His pacing at the start of the movement, though faster than many, (Boulez rather than Bernstein), is not lacking in serenity thanks to the finely nuanced playing of his players. He builds the movement confidently through the three climaxes that recall the music of Part 1 to reach an exalted apotheosis, glowing yet free from both sentimentality and bombast.

Those who have enjoyed Fischer's earlier Mahler recordings will need no urging to acquire this one. In both musical and sonic terms it provides a further criterion for past and future recordings of this symphony.

Highly recommended.

Copyright © 2017 Graham Williams and


Sonics (Multichannel):

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Comments (30)

Comment by jdaniel1371 - May 4, 2017 (21 of 30)

I listened to only the sample and found the indifferent, unimaginative playing to be very concerning. Where's the menace? Where's the projection of Mahler's fantastically- dark, dank, humid sound world, following the opening horn calls? I repeat, I only listened to the sample.

Comment by Graham Williams - May 8, 2017 (22 of 30)

It was Symphony 6 that appeared first. Error corrected.

Comment by hiredfox - May 24, 2017 (23 of 30)

I hope some of you were able to go along to the RFH last night to see the BFO performance of Duke Bluebeard's castle. If you did you would like me have attended one of the most dramatic and innovative live concerts seen or heard in London for many a long year. I have been lucky enough to have 'seen' the orchestra every year for the past decade or more. This orchestra just gets better and better every year under Maestro Fischer's baton and last night they were simply outstanding reaching a level I have never heard before in live concert. Even accepting my fondness for hyperbole, the BFO surely must be a very serious contender indeed as being the best orchestra in the world right now, so flawless and integrated is their musicianship.

Bartok's mini-opera was a magical array of colours and moods, of tensions and climaxes that played havoc with your emotions from beginning to end thoroughly deserving the standing ovation that rang out from the Hall as Fischer slowly lowered his baton. Wonderful stuff that reminded one of why we enjoy our hobby so much.

As is now the custom, the idiosyncratic side of Ivan Fischer's personality could not be contained in a most innovative warm-up performance of Bartok's Hungarian Peasant songs that wedded original folk tunes collected by Bartok in the villages of his country around 1911 - the original phonograph recordings collected by the composer were played over a hi-fi system - and then sung live by a folk singer which then gave way to Bartok's realisation of these songs through a smooth and seamless transition to full orchestration. The ease with which the performers moved back and forth one to the other was mesmeric and enchanting, at one point Ivan was conducting his orchestra facing the audience with the players unseen behind him. Forever the showman this lad!

Comment by hiredfox - June 13, 2017 (24 of 30)

“Sir, when a man is tired of Mahler, he is tired of life; for there is in Mahler all that life can afford.”

Absolutely outstanding performance by Ivan Fischer and his Budapest players, meticulously crafted and beautifully played. Mercifully free of the idiosyncrasies that we have come to associate with the Maestro. There is nothing here to criticise unless one is a curmudgeon, just a spell-binding expression of the emotions of a sensitive man. Impeccably and convincingly recorded by Channel to give us a very privileged sixth row seat in the Place of Arts. One can sense the conviction from the whole ensemble that they know they have 'got this right'.

The equal of any recording of the 3rd that I have heard over the years and at least a joint front runner with Chailly on SACD. As I have proposed before we may be privileged to be listening to the best orchestra in the world right now and possibly one of the best of all time.

Comment by SACD-MAN (threerandot) - June 16, 2017 (25 of 30)

Seeing this release of the Mahler 3 with Fischer has me interested... will certainly be considering this. I think this may be my favorite Mahler symphony.

Comment by fausto kantiano - June 27, 2017 (26 of 30)

having had this disc for two weeks now, only listening to it now for the first time -- first movement, pretty brilliant, I'd say! -- Quick, Channel Classics, I need that 7th symphony; has Fischer recorded it yet?

UPDATE: and to be sure the sound in stereo is marvellous (since the site reviewer doesn't mention it)

Comment by Jan Arell - April 26, 2018 (27 of 30)

Finally I heard this recording, although at a rather low resolution. My first impression is that this is the best interpretation of the first movement I ever heard. Whether the rest is "better" than my Chailly SACD or my Abbado/Lucerne bluray, well that's another question. I was rather impressed by the alto Gerhild Ramberger, even if noone can suppress the voice I still believe I can recall in my head, Anne Sofie von Otter at a concert with the Gothenburg SO in the early 90's.
Anyway, I just ordered the SACD through one of the above links. Strange though that prices ranged so far, between 14 and 22,5 euros. Amazon Germany was by far the cheapest this time.

Comment by hiredfox - April 28, 2018 (28 of 30)

Amazon pricing is pretty opaque, if one tries to use any of their sites other than their domestic one and although advertised prices can be lower on sister sites they whack up the P & P charges to make sure that they are in total more expensive than they are on one's domestic Amazon site.

It wasn't always like this and you could shop around the sites to advantage. Not any more, they've plugged what they clearly saw as a loophole to prevent them making even more money.

Try to support the other sites, few as they are and stop this robbery!

Comment by hiredfox - May 1, 2018 (29 of 30)

So a new Fischer recording is on its way

Comment by Jan Arell - May 3, 2018 (30 of 30)

Hiredfox, living in a rather small country there is no domestic Amazon site. If I'm buying from them, I have to go to Amazon UK or Germany. I do buy most of my SACD's from Presto or another British vendor, not linked from HRAudio. But when comparing prices Amazon once in a while is the cheapest, including p&p. As just an hour ago was the case with the Steinberg Zarathustra bluray, by a margin of 5-9 euros.

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