on 19 November 2013
I've been following this cycle since it started and have found that each issue simply gets better and better. Fischer and the Budapest Festival breathe new life into a work that has, let's face it, become a bit of a warhorse of the repertoire. I've listened to it twice since it popped through my door this morning and I've listened at a very 'realistic' volume! ( I'm on holiday this week and the neighbours are all at work!) The detail is very good indeed and, yes, it fulfils my acid test of revealing aspects of the work I've not noticed before. The bass line is very resonant and has my sub-woofer purring away nicely as indeed do my Quad ESL 63's in response to the many layered aspects of Mahler's complex score.
It's tricky to talk about 'tempi' with regard to Mahler, since there is hardly ever a phrase without some detail of movement prescribed and any misjudgement on the part of the conductor can have a knock-on effect further down the page. Fischer gets all the required effects without falling into traps that the less wary can. This is amply demonstrated in the Adagietto where Fischer doesn't use the 'sehr langsam' instruction as an invitation to wallow. (I was going to write 'a la Bernstein. But he could pull it off!)
All in all, a wonderful addition to the artist's discography as well as the unstoppable force of Mahler symphony recordings. Just superb.
While I have nothing but unbridled admiration for the playing of The Budapest Festival Orchestra, which has all the attributes of a chamber ensemble in that there is a luminous transparency to the sound creating a real impression of the musicians listening and relating to each other, my appreciation of their excursions into the music of Mahler under Maestro Ivan Fischer has been variable to put it mildly, ranging from total for their glorious rendering of the Fourth Symphony, through to none for their ill-thought, poorly structured misfire of a Sixth, one of the few Mahler recordings I actively dislike.
In between there is a dull underpowered Second, and an eccentric First whose square rhythms and sluggish tempi in the First Movement, and extraordinary extended central Andante section of the finale which all but ceases to be music offset the brilliant playing and bravura performance of the rest of the work-not for me I'm afraid.
I was trepidatious when I saw the 5th announced with a publicity blurb in which Maestro Fischer declared that this was the most Jewish of all Mahler's symphonies. I feared that we might have something approaching the pastiches by Uri Cain and his ensemble.
Maestro Fischer does qualify this in a brief touching personal memoir in the accompanying booklet, though I still don't think that this supports his assertion.
However, frankly I don't care. I don't listen to Mahler analysing the various influences, nor am I bothered by the "borrowings "from other composers, most notably Hans Rott, Liszt, Brahms and Wagner. I just want the performance to be convincing from whatever standpoint the conductor approaches it-thus I love Bernstein's VPO performance equally with Karajan's more classical approach with the BPO to name but two.
In the event, this performance is exquisitely played-I cannot stress this enough-and the recording is stunning in stereo and even more so in SACD-and there is none of the exaggeration I feared, in fact I almost wish there were!
This performance, for all its beauty, is for the most part routine, and in many sections outright dull.
This is entirely down to the pedestrian tempi and slack rhythm adopted by the conductor.
The work opens promisingly, with wonderful trumpet work in a movement where the balancing in this performance almost converts it into a concerto for that instrument. The opening funeral march is excellent, but midway through begins to lose dramatic impetus.
The second movement opens entirely devoid of the "extreme vehemence" specified by Mahler, and limps along as a continuation of the flaccid threnody in this performance that completes the opening movement, but without any of the spitting white heat that this movement should generate. Around 4 minutes from the end there is a section which should raise the hairs and bring a lump to the throat-when the trumpet enters in the major key to thwart the overwhelming morass of Fate which is consuming the protagonist!
Here it just emerges as the next notes on the page, very matter of fact and missing entirely the breathtaking effect this passage can and should have.
The third movement lopes along amiably enough at a moderate tempo, and is certainly fabulously played in the tempestuous sections, but the conductor seems to think that playing louder is enough to enhance the musical argument.
The 4th movement is sublime, and Fischer does not make the mistake of Barbirolli in imbuing it with so much emotional punch that finale that follows become pure bathos.
The finale itself unfolds at again a moderate tempo, almost careful, and while plenty of detail is revealed, I began to feel bored by it-not what I want or expect from this great work!
I fully appreciate that there will be a phalanx of listeners for whom the sheer beauty of the recorded sound will be more than enough to compensate for what I hear as its deficiencies in interpretation, and to those I commend this recording with 5 Stars.
For those who want greater insights, greater emotional and dramatic impact from the work itself, I counsel caution. I wouldn't buy it again, let's put it that way, no matter how spectacular the sonics are!
The aforementioned Bernstein, Karajan (not everyone's choice but I've never heard a better finale), Maazel with the VPO, Abbado BPO, Tennstedt (live) and for those prepared to forage, there is an absolutely stunning Jansons BRSO recording from BR Klassik only ever released in Germany all make better choices, and if SACD is a prerequisite Jansons with the RCO is not as gripping as in his Munich recording, but is still superb and in sound every bit as resplendent as this recording.
A cautious 3 stars for this recording. Stewart Crowe.
on 27 November 2013
I have never encountered a Mahlerrecording so lame and so lacking in vision. The second movement is a good example for this. The Orchestra plays great, the performance lacks bite, vision and desperation and have nothing to do with Mahlers World as I see it. As an admirer of this ensemble and conductor, I am puzzled over this low-mark of reading of a major Classic. This is absolutely a recording to pass. Listen to Barbirolli, Karajan, Haitink and above all Bernstein in Vienna instead for the real thing!