Mahler: Symphony No. 2 - Fischer
Channel Classics CCS SA 23506 (2 discs)
Classical - Orchestral
Mahler: Symphony No. 2 in C minor "Resurrection"
Hungarian Radio Choir
Budapest Festival Orchestra
Ivan Fischer (conductor)
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Review by Graham Williams - September 21, 2006
Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra have already given us an excellent Mahler 6 on SACD Mahler: Symphony No. 6 - Fischer and now follow it up with a truly stupendous Mahler 2.
Fischer’s powerful performance of the first movement funeral march is quite swift (21.30) – a true Allego maestoso, but nowhere is it ever rushed, just driven forward purposefully. He avoids any irritating interpretive mannerisms of the sort that have sometimes marred his earlier recordings for Channel Classics although the sudden relaxing of the tempo at 16.33 took me a little by surprise. Climaxes have huge impact, yet are easily accommodated by the magnificent recording.
Fischer treats the second movement with great affection, playing it as a jaunty ländler. He brings out the humorous qualities of the music by using subtle rubato to accent the main theme. It is not overdone, but makes MTT appear tired and lacking in imagination in comparison.
The third movement begins with two very arresting timpani thwacks. The tempo is flowing and quite relaxed. Fischer emphasises the sardonic humour of the music and the interplay of the themes are clearly defined by the excellent balance he achieves. The playing is wonderfully alive with a dreamy central section in which the trumpets blend perfectly with the strings. I can’t imagine it sounding any better than it does here.
Birgit Remmert’s singing in the Urlicht movement is straightforward and un-mannered, though I did find her slightly effortful, and not as moving or involved as, for example, Christa Ludwig for Mehta and Bernstein or the incomparable Lorraine Hunt Lieberson on the MTT version.
The crash that begins the finale will test most listener’s equipment to the full, yet is it is reproduced here with clarity and ease, while the huge crescendo at 10.00 leads to an awesome climax such as is rarely heard outside the concert hall.
No attempt is made to place any of the offstage brass anywhere but behind the orchestra (a lost opportunity or a blessing, depending on your point of view) and the surround channels are used throughout purely for ambience. This is certainly no loss as one can hear in the magical interplay of the solo flute and off-stage orchestra at 19.01.
The entry of the choir (the excellent Hungarian Radio Choir) is clear and firm, unlike the wooliness of so many choirs in a number of other versions of this piece, and is perfectly balanced with the orchestra, while the entry of Lisa Milne’s radiant soprano soars exactly as it should. The ending is played, and reproduced, with all the power and grandeur one could wish for.
Jared Sacks really has got the measure of recording in the new Budapest palace of Arts and, as I have indicated, the sound quality on these two SACDs is absolutely superb. The bass instruments are reproduced with much more impact than in the earlier recording, yet the overall sound has even greater transparency. The orchestra is seated as for MTT with the violins split left and right, basses on the left etc. as Mahler would have expected. This arrangement always seems to reveal a wealth of inner detail and that is certainly the case here.
Throughout, the Budapest Festival Orchestra play with the utmost virtuosity for its founder and I cannot recommend this version too highly. This is a great achievement for all concerned.
Copyright © 2006 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net