Mahler: Symphony No. 6 - Fischer
Channel Classics CCS SA 22905
Classical - Orchestral
Mahler: Symphony No. 6 in A minor
Budapest Festival Orchestra
Ivan Fischer (conductor)
Review by Graham Williams - November 14, 2005
The flow of new recordings of Mahler 6 on SACD continues unabated: so any newcomer must be very special to tempt prospective purchasers who already have access to versions by Abbado, Zander, Michael Tilson-Thomas etc., not to mention a legion of older recordings on CD.
This is, I believe, the first hybrid SACD to accommodate the work on a single disc (78.49), although DGG could probably have managed to do the same for Abbado (79.13 without the applause track). Hein Dekker and Jared Sacks in February 2005 made this superb recording in the impressive new National Concert Hall situated in The Palace of Arts, Budapest. The digipak in which the disc is supplied has a picture of the interior of the auditorium. It looks magnificent and apparently incorporates state-of-the art technology to alter its acoustic properties.
Like Abbado, Fischer opts for the order of the two central movements used when Mahler conducted the first performance in Essen - Andante then Scherzo. In the booklet accompanying the disc, Fischer explains that, having changed the order of these movements at every single concert during a long European tour with the orchestra, he became convinced that Mahler’s abrupt decision was a stroke of genius. He also gives his reasons for omitting the third hammer blow in the finale.
Well, what of the performance?
The opening march tempo for the first movement is pretty well the same as that adopted by Abbado and MTT, but the statement of the Alma theme begins rather briskly and then gradually relaxes. Otherwise I detected no peculiar interpretative quirks. Cowbells are especially clearly recorded although some may find them not to be quite distant enough.
The Andante moderato is just that. It is played softly and with much tenderness and its climax is beautifully achieved. The horn and wind solos, as well as the silky strings, show to the full the quality of this wonderful orchestra.
In the Scherzo Fischer does not emphasise the Wuchtig = weighty and grotesque character of this movement as much as Tilson-Thomas, but it is powerfully played.
Fischer’s finale is quite overwhelming. He shapes the slow introduction superbly building the tension menacingly up to the start of the allegro. He manages to maintain the forward thrust of the music, yet keeps control of the complex textures from start to finish. All sections of the orchestra rise magnificently to the challenge of this movement. The all important hammer blows are delivered with massive force and the final bars are played with a ferocity that I have rarely heard.
The DSD recording quality is superb, having depth, clarity and richness. Reproduction of low frequencies is particularly impressive and percussion is very clear throughout.
In the final analysis, however, the sound is not quite as sharply etched as that given to Tilson-Thomas on the SFS label, which, for me, remains unassailable in terms of sonic realism.
Nevertheless, Fischer’s more taut performance and single disc convenience may well be the deciding factors for you when considering whether to buy this one.
This version must now take its place amongst the very best available. It represents a great achievement for Channel Classics.
Copyright © 2005 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net
Review by John Broggio - April 5, 2006
It has taken me a long while to come to some conclusions about this version of Mahler 6 (especially in light of the Abbado Mahler: Symphony No. 6 - Abbado and the Zander version with the 3rd hammer blow Mahler: Symphony No. 6 - Zander). To me it brilliantly highlights the interpretative flaws of Zander's version (although it is nice to have the 3rd hammer blow as a point of interest) and sonically easily outdoes both. I have not heard the SFSO/TT release (yet).
The first movement is indeed quite brisk, there are few allowances made for sentimentality here! That said, Fischer extracts phenomenal playing here - many times they had me questioning whether it was the BPO! It is nice not to have point making done just because Mahler marks an accelerando or ritardando; Fischer does observe them but makes them part of the musical line not the musical line in itself. In this, he seems to be a kindred spirit in most instances with Abbado. The only time that this briskness risks turning into brusqueness is the entrance of the "Alma/love" theme which is almost breathless here and the extra 25s that Abbado allows the BPO are well worth it.
This is also apparent in the choice of movement order, with both opting for the Andante first. On a practical level, Channel Classics wins hands down here as they allow the listener to reprogram the player if they'd prefer the Scherzo first (DG splits these movements unnecessarily between discs). Musically, Fischer is almost too self-effacing but I prefer this approach to the over-sentimental view that Bernstein and his acolytes all-to-readily adopt in my opinion. Here the music is most beautifully allowed to speak for itself.
The Scherzo combines two qualities of interpretation from the first two: fairly brisk and unrelenting tempi together with a tendency to almost underplay the disturbing aspects of this score. The accents are vividly played and captured by the recording but one senses that Fischer is trying to play down the overall level of neurosis whilst consciously not trying to smooth out the textures - it nearly but doesn't quite work.
The Finale is very well paced and the room really shakes under the onslaught of the BFO letting themselves tear into the notes with a disciplined fury. I have no real complaints about this movement whatsoever, and the low brass upstage the BPO completely in the coda although Abbado manages to point the music more successfully. The one nagging doubt I have is that for all the strengths, the whole isn't quite the sum of the parts and the depressive horror that the best versions evoke isn't quite enough in evidence.
This was the first recording made in the new Palace of Arts, Budapest (a bit of an angular version of Birmingham's Symphony Hall by the look and sound of things) and it is breathtaking in its clarity and realism. This, at least sonically, must be Channel Classics finest disc to date. MCH is clearly much better here and the 2-channel layer is also audibly more impressive than its RBCD equivalent (no matter the quality of RBCD or SACD player thrown its way). A most impressive demonstration disc for the Palace of Arts, Budapest and Channel Classics.
Copyright © 2006 John Broggio and HRAudio.net