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Symphony No.1 in D minor, Titan
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 17 September 2012
Iván Fischer's Mahler 1 would be thrilling on just an average day. But after Marin Alsop's oddly flaccid account with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, just out on Naxos, the Budapest Festival Orchestra's new recording is a veritable riot. As at the Proms last year, some of Fischer's choices remain mannered, yet he and his players deliver thrills and spills aplenty.

The wayside gamble of the first movement has a loucher gait than many of Fischer's competitors, but he invests this evocation of the natural world with real buoyancy. Charting a vast dynamic range, not a note is left unturned. High points are over-emphasised, but it's all part and parcel of a symphony that seems to photosynthesise before our very ears. The Ländler is similarly feral, with its hunting-cum-Rosenkavalier horns teeing up a deliciously sensual waltz. Clearly Fischer rejoices in extremes.

Such contrasts become schizophrenic in the funeral march, where a desolate opening turns decidedly caustic. Balmy Budapest strings scatter portamento over the cortège, before pungent Klezmer clarinets take over the mourning duties. Playing on that bipolarity yet further, Fischer answers his languid opening movement with a savage finale. Strident, with bite to the brass and ferocious attacks at the heel of the bow, the symphony builds to a dynamic conclusion. Fischer's choice to delay the penultimate climax may irritate some, but the fanfares that follow will blind any listener.

After Alsop and Chung's recent unassertive performances, this recording is dizzyingly fresh. Fischer is an interventionist and, for that reason, this recording may not attain an award-winning benchmark spot. But for sheer theatrical guts and gall, this is unbeatable stuff.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 28 November 2012
I have acquired numerous Mahler recordings over the years and I was attracted to this recording, and of Nos. 2, 4 and 6, as they are SACD issues and which I would anticipate being beneficial in the wide dynamic range that one finds in Mahler's symphonies.

I've yet to audition the other three symphonies, but I should first get one thing out of the way regarding this symphony: it is beautifully recorded, even the CD layer of the disc benefits, and the dynamics are handled with aplomb and the acoustics of the hall come across clearly. For its audio quality, I would award it 5 Stars, easily. However, for me, there are certain aspects of the performance that just rob it of a full five stars.

Unfortunately, the interpretation got off to a bad start almost from the off, and I confess that this put me in a frame of mind that I wasn't going to enjoy the performance and this, little by little, kept being reinforced at various stages throughout the performance where Fischer makes an effect, seemingly to distance himself from other conductors. Early in the first movement, for example, at the point where Mahler scored beautiful bird calls in the winds, Fischer lingers far too long seemingly admiring the sounds and sights of nature, forgetting that he should be moving on. This will be one of those idiosyncratic interpretations that you will either enjoy or find irritating. For me, it is the latter.

But as an admirer of the old school of Mahler conductors, including Bruno Walter and his 1959 NYPO recording of this work, I find Fischer's view of Mahler's sound world is certainly different. It is Mahler, but is it echt Mahler?

Don't get me wrong, there are lots of things to enjoy in this recording and maybe it will grow on me in time. If you enjoy a sonic spectacular, go for it, and watch out for the start of the final movement, but I can envisage seasoned Mahlerians being divided. As with any review, this one is very subjective and I am sure others will respond differently to this recording. But once looking past the sonics I find it just doesn't move me as much as I had been hoping it would.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I've always enjoyed Ivan Fischer's thoughtful approach to Mahler, aided as ever by excellent sound and fine playing but this version of the First sounds a little too mannered for me with the symphonic line being lost, particularly in the first movement. In fairness, the First isn't the most well balanced of the set with the rousing finale at odds with the more modest dimensions of the previous movements. Even so, as interpretations go this is well behind the leaders, my favourite being Kubelik on Audite. Don't get me wrong, this still sounds wonderful but there's better to be had.
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