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VINE VOICEon 8 September 2010
How much rehearsal time does Ivan Fischer get with his Budapest Festival Orchestra? I raise the question simply because his Mahler recordings show such infinite and loving attention to detail in these, the most detailed of scores.

His Mahler 4 is no exception. The little squeezes of crescendo/decrescendo on small phrases or even single notes are all carefully observed. So, too, the many little caesuras in the score as well as the variety of different emphasis markings - dots, sforzandi, little decrescendo marks. It all helps to characterise every phrase, every theme. His affection for the Mahlerian portamento/glissando, shown in previous recordings, is also here in abundance (though almost always only when marked in the score) and even extends to the voice in the last verse of the final movement.

This is not enough to make a great Mahler conductor, of course. But Fischer shows himself to be just that throughout the work. He always seems to make it sound so natural. The subtleties of tempo variation are a sheer delight. For example, just before the dash for the line at the end of the first movement there are no less than 10 modifications of tempo in as many bars - rit., subito a tempo, accelerando, rit.. molto rit., langsam, another rit., sehr zuruckhaltend (holding back a little), a tempo and poco a poco stringendo. Fischer moulds it all into a moving and naturally flowing whole.

In his essay in the accompanying notes, Fischer talks about the chamber orchestra feel of the whole symphony and of `the lightness of the whole orchestra'. This certainly comes through in the playing. Which is not to say that he eschews the darkness and angst of the piece: this is perhaps a Child's Paradise Lost. At times, especially in the first movement, I was reminded of the darker side of Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel, which Mahler had conducted at the Vienna Opera the season before he started work on the first three movements of the symphony. It is the scale, not the content, which is smaller than in other Mahler symphonies. And, as befits a chamber group, some of the soloists deserve special mention - the 1st Horn, who plays the many solos and important counterpoints gloriously, and the clarinettist, who captures the perkiness of a Carinthian town band in the second movement to perfection.

Many of the other reviewers have found the final movement something of a let-down. It should be pointed out that this movement was written seven or eight years before the rest of the symphony and was very much the seed from which the rest of the work grew, thematically as well as emotionally. You should perhaps argue that the slow movement, sublime as it is, is a little too weighty for its context. Mahler gave two important instructions in the score at the head of this last movement: `It is of the greatest importance that the singer be extremely discreetly accompanied' and `To be sung with childlike and serene expression, absolutely without parody!' Both these criteria are admirably realised, by Fischer in his accompaniment and by Miah Persson in her singing. As it gently rocks the symphony to its close, one is left (with a tear or two I must admit) reflecting on a great performance, superbly played and wonderfully recorded.
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VINE VOICEon 19 April 2009
This is one of the most ravishing Mahler discs that I have heard for some time. The playing of the orchestra is stunning and the balances favour some wonderful wind and brass detail whilst delivering the full impact of the whole orchestra when required. Fischer is ia sensitive interpreter, rounding the phrases in the music most pleasingly with a bracing first two movements.

The third (adagio) movement is played so well on this recording that Fischer makes it sound like the greatest movement Mahler ever wrote! It encapsulates all the joy and pain of life as it moves towards the huge "Gates of Heaven" climax just before it drifts into the final movement. This is remarkably good playing and conducting.

And then... Well we have the song finale with Miah Persson as a charming and very clear soprano soloist. For me the trouble was that the third movement was so overwhelmingly good that this charming movement, almost like an intermezzo, was something of an anticlimax. To be fair you could claim that this is a problem with the unusual structure of the symphony as much as anything else and this could indeed be the case. But Fischer's conducting also sounds just a little matter of fact at this point with a fairly speedy overall tempo that is just a little unyielding in approach. This may be an over-critical reaction but if it is, it is because of the comparison with the wonderful intensity of the other movements, particularly the Adagio.

Despite this (slight) criticism I believe that this is a disc full of delightful insights from Fischer and his Budapest Festival Orchestra and that this disc will provide great satisfaction. Recommended.
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on 18 February 2015
I was in Budapest for my sons graduation and after our celebration found a music shop open. Mahler's 4th is one of my favourites and I have a lot of recordings. George Szell's Cleveland recording was always my favourite. Until I played this one.

Recorded in Budapest in 2009, it reminds me of the softness and tenderness that the Fourth is supposed to bring out in the playing but is sometimes missed. I found myself affected by the recording, the way in which each individual note has its place and its prominence as the composer intended. You get the feeling Ivan Fisher conducted this recording with his eyes reading straight into each players eyes, completely at one with his musicians who seem to know exactly what he wanted them to achieve, concentrating only on the music and achieving perfect pitch and timing for each individual note with no distractions. The timing feels perfect too, never hurried but never feeling slow either. The oboe was one of Mahler's favourite instruments and it shows here.
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on 30 October 2009
First of all, the technical quality of this recording is first-class. Every nuance of Mahler's delightful score can be heard, without undue emphasis to any of it. Just listen to the accompaniment to "Death's Fiddle" in the second movement, or the gurgling trio sections! The Fourth is basically a chamber symphony, with very few really loud climaxes: there are really only two, one in the middle of the first movement and the other near the end of the third. Ivan Fischer never tries to exaggerate any of the dynamics but just presents the music simply, as Mahler might have wished. That does not mean there is a lack of emotion, on the contrary, this is a very moving performance. Miah Persson seems well-cast as the child-like soprano in the last movement, which I too have always found a bit of an anticlimax after what has gone before. (But maybe Heaven is...) Fischer maintains the tension even in the slowest part at the beginning of the third movement, which is more "molto" than "poco" adagio here.

Klemperer's version is still my favourite, but this must come next.
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on 12 June 2011
The BFO and Fischer triumph once again. I don't remember during my life hearing a better performance of this work. This is for me very close to perfection - I think that I heard two notes in the first violins where I wasn't completely happy with their portamento, but otherwise... I have no reservations about Miah Persson's singing; it fitted the conception of the performance like a glove. Listen and prepare for enchantment!
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on 14 February 2011
I'm having a Mahler phase, listening to various recordings of his symphonies. This one is quite excellent along with the earlier CR recording of symphony 2. There are heaps of new releases almost by the week from the big labels, but this Mahler series is the one to watch. Highly recommended
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VINE VOICEon 29 May 2010
I really feel you can not get a better recording of this wonderful work than this one. Sumptuous recording, and the performance is superb; sensitive to the score, superbly characterful, nuanced, alive. This is a simply wonderful disc, a Great Recording of This Century, if you will.
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on 31 May 2011
In his fourth symphony Gustav Mahler aimed to express a child's vision of heaven (included the fear, suffering and death that gets one there), and a conductor needs to bear that in mind. Unfortunately Fischer captures nothing much of that. The first movement is rhythmically unstable (but in the wrong way), the second unexceptional, the third affectionate but not particularly insightful, and the finale is a big letdown. After the excellent reviews this disc received in the press, and the uniformly positive Amazon reviews, I was expecting much, and was consequently very disappointed. It is all beautiful, very well-formed music-making, but it all lacks a true Mahlerian character and insight. Mengleberg, Kletzki and Norrington (except in the finale) come closer than Fischer to giving us what Mahler surely wanted, and Kathleen Battle still remains a matchless soloist in the finale (but her conductor, Lorin Maazel, is fairly mediocre elsewhere). We still await a truly great Mahler 4 on disc. It is undoubtedly the most elusive of all the Mahler symphonies for conductors, probably because they are almost all so far up their own backsides that they lack the humility and imagination to grasp what a child's view of heaven is surely like.
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on 25 September 2014
good harmony and great soprano!
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on 21 May 2013
This recording of Mahler's 4th is a better quality than I expected - I would like to know how high
on the popularity charts it stands.
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