Mahler: Symphony No. 4 - Fischer (Ivan)
Channel Classics CCS SA 26109
Classical - Orchestral
Mahler: Symphony No. 4
Miah Persson (soprano)
Budapest Festival Orchestra
Ivan Fischer (conductor)
There is a unique purity and transparency in Mahler's 4th Symphony. The enchanting slay bells take us to his inner child, to his dreams of angels, fairy tales, angst and pure, divine love. This child-like symphony needed a different orchestra: no dark tuba, no heavy trombones, no large arsenal of massive brass. A chamber orchestra in fact, where the clarinets act as mock trumpets, the solo violin tunes his strings sharper in order to scare us and the lightness of the whole orchestra lifts us up to his lovely, childish vision of paradise.
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Review by Graham Williams - March 11, 2009
Collectors of Mahler symphonies on SACD are more than well catered for. Hardly a month goes by without another recording of one of these works appearing, and one wonders whether saturation point will be (or has already been) reached soon. However, the previous two releases by Ivan Fischer and The Budapest Festival Orchestra on Channel Classics have been widely welcomed as two of the finest available versions of these much-recorded works both in terms of performance and recorded sound. See Mahler: Symphony No. 6 - Fischer (Ivan) and Mahler: Symphony No. 2 - Fischer (Ivan).
Last year I attended one of the superb performances of Mahler Symphony 3 they gave on tour in the UK, so I fully expected that work to be the next Mahler they committed to disc. However, instead, this new recording of the Fourth Symphony has appeared and it is more than welcome.
The new Mahler 4 begins with one major asset, namely the contribution of the Swedish soprano Miah Persson in the symphony’s final movement. Her pure unforced voice has the same quality of artless simplicity that she brings to her singing of Mozart. So many conductors allow this movement to drag, but here the music flows in the comfortable manner that Mahler’s ‘Sehr behaglich’ indicates, whilst also allowing the listener to relish Persson’s clear and unaffected delivery of the poem.
In the booklet notes, Ivan Fischer writes that ‘There is a unique purity and transparency in Mahler’s 4th Symphony.’ and these are two qualities that he has emphasised in this recording. In all four movements Fischer balances the individual instrumental lines with the utmost care while his extensive use of rubato and especially string portamenti aligns his performance style with that of conductors from the distant past.
The first movement, in particular, exhibits an unusual flexibility of tempo throughout that suggests that Fischer has considered this work very deeply before committing it to disc. This certainly results in a very personal and characterful performance. After the opening bars, with some rather reticent sleigh bells, the fourth note of the main theme on the violins is played with an upward flick that will raise a few eyebrows and may appear mannered, but it does at once establish a light-hearted and easy-going atmosphere. Later in this movement (between 4.22 and 5.18) Fischer relaxes the tempo to a surprising degree before speeding up as the music takes a more sinister turn and the dynamics increase, while he moulds the ending of this movement with exquisite sensitivity.
It would be impossible to over-praise the wonderful playing of the Budapest Festival Orchestra in this recording. For a sample of what is on offer, try the scherzo where, though every section of the orchestra excels, special praise is due to the solo violin, horn and trumpet players. The conductor’s care for balance combined with the orchestral layout allows details, un-noticed in other recordings, to stand out clearly, but with an un-forced naturalness.
Fischer’s tempo for the poignant slow movement is especially well chosen falling between those of, for example, the slightly impatient Haitink and the indulgent Tilson Thomas. Again the ear is beguiled by the playing of the Budapest Festival Orchestra and the radiant climax of this movement has surely never been bettered on disc.
The sound quality that Hein Dekker and Jared Sacks have captured from the Palace of Arts, Budapest, is absolutely superb, combining extreme clarity and sonic impact in equal measure. The 5.0 surround sound further enhances the ambience of the hall for the multi-channel listener.
There are undoubtedly a few controversial aspects to this performance, but Fischer’s view of the work is a fascinating and compelling one that all Mahler devotees will wish to investigate for themselves. Very highly recommended.
Copyright © 2009 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net
Review by Mark Novak - April 17, 2009
I finally had a chance to listen twice through this SACD. It is a worthy contribution to the Mahler 4 canon to be sure but I don't find it to be the revelation that some others have suggested. Maestro Fischer leads a very competent performance by the BFO. Tempos are nicely judged throughout the work and inner section voices are never swamped by the massed violins. The singing by Miah Persson in the Finale is perhaps the best thing about this performance - perfectly suited to the work. She's never over the top and her tone is so pure. The overall impression I'm left with is not of a monumental Mahler symphony but more of a chamber-like work with all the orchestral sections playing nicely together. I am glad to have this version in my collection.
Overall the sound of this recording is excellent but I do have a few quibbles. About two-thirds of the way through movement 1 there are lots of cymbal crashes that leap to the front of the soundstage rather unnaturally. Perhaps there was a spotlight mic a bit too close to the persussion section. The same can be said for the triangle - too forward in the soundstage. Lastly, the double basses sound a bit indistinct. Other than that, I find this to be an excellent recording of a full orchestra. The dynamic range may be surprising to some. Set the volume to be correct for the 1st movement and then wait to be whalloped by the peroration near the end of the 3rd movement. Wow! Nice job Channel.
Copyright © 2009 Mark Novak and HRAudio.net