Mahler - Symphony No.9
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Label: Channel Classics
Cat No: CCSSA36115
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 18th May 2015
ArtistsBudapest Festival Orchestra
The stunning new recording by one of the undisputed contemporary Mahlerians, Ivan Fischer.
The Ninth Symphony was the last score completed by Mahler, and it could well be that this was how he originally meant it to be. With Beethovens’ Ninth and the unfinished Ninth by Bruckner in the back of his mind, he was deeply superstitious about symphonies and the number nine. At least, that is what his wife Alma had to say. But did he really intend the work to be nothing less than a farewell to life, as the moving final movement seems to suggest, and as it has so often been interpreted by Mahler specialists?
According to the conductor Leonard Bernstein, the last pages of the symphony are “the most musically realistic description of death itself”.
"Fischer’s elite band have always displayed superb Mahlerian credentials." - Sunday Times
1Symphony no.9 in D major - I. Andante comodo
2Symphony no.9 in D major - II. Im Tempo eines gemachlichen Landlers
3Symphony no.9 in D major - III. Rondo-Burleske
4Symphony no.9 in D major - IV. Adagio
Happily, such is not the case here. Following Mark Elder's recent musically spacious account with the Hallé, this latest disc in Iván Fischer's ongoing Mahler cycle with the Budapest Festival Orchestra is captured in an entirely natural and believable acoustic. While placing the listener midway back in the stalls at Béla Bartók National Concert Hall in Budapest's Palace of Arts, there is no loss of clarity: the all-important wind solos emerge distinctly, while timpani and heavy brass never obtrude, coming to the fore only when called for by Mahler.
This pleasingly natural balance fits hand-in-glove with a fairly brisk yet unhurried reading. The opening movement is a proper Andante, the main 'farewell' theme beautiful but not overindulged as it too often can be, while the climaxes have a rare urgency, with inner textures commendably clear. There's some outstanding solo playing, the horns in particular excel themselves, and the strings are ardently expressive. It's not often that you'll hear the reflective and the passionate so perfectly balanced and nuanced as in this performance.
In the middle movements, Fischer manages to capture the irony without spilling over into heavy-handed forcefulness. The Ländler swings into life with real style (some exceptionally nimble bassoon playing), as does the speeded-up waltz that forms the second section, while the throw-away ending is judged to a nicety. There's proper menace and defiance to the macabre Rondo-Burleske, where the variety of orchestral colours leaps out like so many flickering flames. Horns are again on their mettle, as are the clarinets. The central section opens up marvellously, with rapturous harp swirls, and the final chaotic accelerando is both thrilling and terrifying.
The urgency even spills over into the opening bars of the Adagio, before the tempo settles for the main theme itself: searingly emotive yet with real transparency to the textures. The hushed second section is delicate as a lily, and the increasingly impassioned returns of the main theme are deeply felt. The closing pages are as fragile as a forgotten dream, the shading beautifully observed until all dissolves in the final bars. There's no doubting here that the musicians of the Budapest Festival Orchestra are in the very highest class, and by the end the listener is left overwhelmed yet with a profound sense of calm. It's as moving a performance as any captured on disc, and Channel Classics' engineers do it proud.
Time will tell whether Fischer's reading can take its place alongside the greats in this work – Bruno Walter, Karel Ančerl, Claudio Abbado chief among them – but initial acquaintance indicates this is a strong likelihood. It's certainly the outstanding release so far of Fischer's much-admired Mahler cycle.
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