Mahler - Symphony no.7
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Label: Channel Classics
Cat No: CCSSA38019
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 15th March 2019
ArtistsBudapest Festival Orchestra
1Langsam - Allegro Risoluto, Ma Non Troppo
2Nachtmusik I: Allegro Moderato
4Nachtmusik II: Andante Amoroso
5Rondo - Finale
In an absorbing 45-minute video documentary about the recording (available on YouTube and via the Europadisc website), Fischer reveals his admiration for Mahler’s bold, honest and forward-looking eclecticism, as well as its influences on his own musical style. (There are also some fascinating excerpts from Fischer’s 2013 music-theatre piece The Red Heifer.) This admiration is clearly infectious, for the Budapest Festival Orchestra deliver what must count as one of the most unaffectedly joyous accounts of the Seventh ever committed to disc.
The very opening gives a taster of what’s in store: that memorable rhythmic figure, said to have been inspired by the oar-strokes as Mahler was ferried across an Alpine lake, with beautifully mellow, woody clarinet tone to the fore, and then the tenor horn solo with a hint of Central European vibrato. Fischer and his players know just how to combine modern technical perfection with a sense of tradition that never lapses into faux nostalgia. And they also know just how to balance the impulsive with the reflective: there is plenty of urgency to this performance (one of the many reasons for its success), but Fischer knows just when to create more space, aided by sumptuous but lovingly detailed recorded sound. This may be a less intensely ‘personal’ work than the Sixth Symphony (composition of the two symphonies overlapped), but there is no coolness to Mahler’s objectivity here, rather a delight in music for music’s sake.
Those crucial central movements (often so difficult to bring off convincingly) go like a dream here. The opening of the first Nachtmusik sounds utterly spontaneous, revelling in the sounds of nature, and no doubt the result of detailed work on rhythmic, dynamic and accentual placement. Perfect poise gives way to the spooky shadows of the central Scherzo, the various strands of Mahler’s deft chiaroscuro moving in and out of focus as if in a particularly vivid nightmare. In Fischer’s hands, this movement emerges as perhaps Mahler’s greatest Scherzo (which is saying much), unerringly paced throughout. As for the second Nachtmusik, Fischer manages to deliver emotion without over-egging the pudding ŕ la Bernstein: this is the closest we get to a slow movement in this work, but it’s marked Andante amoroso (not Adagio amoroso), and the vivid scoring with guitar and mandolin suggests a genial nocturnal serenade, which is exactly what we get here.
In the Rondo-Finale, Fischer keeps a tight rein on proceedings with bracing tempi reminiscent of Kubelík and Kondrashin at their best, but with even finer orchestral playing. Taking the music at face value, but well aware of all the many stylistic nods along the way, Fischer and the Budapest players revel in the unfolding tableau with playing of rich tonal depths but also delightfully light, almost classical sonorities. If there is any hint of irony in this music, it is left for the listener to decide: what this performance gives is an emotionally open performance paced and played to utter perfection. You may well find yourself dancing along to this supposedly ‘problematic’ music, discovering for yourself the music’s superabundant humanity, as these musicians evidently have.
Maybe one day someone will be able to persuade Fischer to tackle the gargantuan Eighth, but other great Mahlerians have given it and several other works a wide berth (think of Klemperer), while others still have come to it late (Abbado and Rattle, for instance). For now, though, it’s difficult to think of a more joyous conclusion to the Budapest Mahler project than this ear- and mind-opening performance of the Seventh. It should be heard by lovers of Mahler’s music everywhere.
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