Budapest Festival Orchestra, Ivan Fischer – Mahler: Symphony No. 6 (2006)
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After the dress rehearsal, Mahler paced back and forth in the greenroom, wringing his hands and sobbing. He was beside himself. In the last movement he had let his ‘hero’ be killed by three violent blows of fate, a sort of Old Testament prophecy of the destruction of humanity by a higher power. In the score he symbolically notated three dull thuds made by a hammer on a wooden box which he had had especially built. But after the premiere he removed the third blow in measure 783. And as a symbol of the last remains of earthly existence he brought in the characteristic sound of cowbells, the last sounds which echo from the valleys and meadows on the highest summits of the world. They were meant to sum up the whole of human experience, from childlike innocence and wonder to fury, despair, and destruction. His Sixth Symphony is the most merciless and uncompromising portrayal of this vision….
Fischer’s performance of the Sixth is quite similar to Abbado’s recent live recording for DG. Textures are generally light and transparent, with a swift opening march that, by the same token, never sounds unduly rushed or trivialized. The andante comes second, not the best option in my view, but Fischer has the intelligence to treat it as a true andante, and not as an adagio (which is a more legitimate possibility when it’s placed third). However, in contrast to Abbado’s boring Berliners, Fischer’s orchestra plays better, and he’s much better recorded. Just listen to the characterful brass in the coda of the first movement, with a particularly fine first trumpet, or the splendid woodwinds in the trios of the scherzo. The emphasis on fleetness never compromises expressivity, as happens in Berlin.
Fischer also has a keen ear for Mahler’s special effects: the cowbells tinkle evocatively, and the offstage chimes are perfectly balanced at the start of the finale, even if the passage isn’t the unforgettable dream of terror that Bernstein makes of it. Best of all, the finale is terrific, as it must be in any performance of this work. It has the necessary weight, with imposing brass playing and aptly dark, heavy, but potent hammer blows. Fischer also times each return to the movement’s introduction especially well, knitting together the movement’s various episodes with unerring skill. The entire recapitulation and coda are masterfully paced, with excellent contributions from all sections.
The performance that this one resembles most in its unaffected musicality is Kubelik’s, though both in stereo or 5.0 multichannel sound the engineering here is incomparably finer. In sum, this is a rendition surprisingly easy on the ear, but one that achieves this quality without making too many expressive compromises along the way. It also fits neatly onto a single disc. You should certainly own a performance of this symphony a bit darker and more frightening (Bernstein’s or Gielen’s will do), but for a legitimate alternative viewpoint you will find it difficult to do better than this. –David Hurwitz, Classics Today.com
Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 6 in A-Minor
1 I. Allegro energico, ma non troppo 22:23
2 II. Andante moderato 13:43
3 III. Scherzo – Wuchtig 12:52
4 IV. Finale – Allegro moderato 29:23
Budapest Festival Orchestra
Iván Fischer, conductor
Recorded: Palace of Arts, Budapest, February 2005