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Mahler: Symphony No. 1 - Fischer

Mahler: Symphony No. 1 - Fischer

Reference Recordings  FR-715SACD

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Mahler: Symphony No. 1

Utah Symphony
Thierry Fischer


The Utah Symphony, celebrating its 75th anniversary in the 2015-16 season, is one of America’s major symphony orchestras and a leading cultural organization in the Intermountain West. It is recognized internationally for its distinctive performances, commitment to music education programs, and recording legacy. Reference Recordings is pleased to announce the release of this new and fresh performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. This work was performed as part of the orchestra’s two-year Mahler Symphony Cycle. Reference Recordings also joins Utah Symphony in thanks to the 75th Anniversary Mahler Cycle Sponsors: Kem & Carolyn Gardner.

Founded in 1940, the Utah Symphony became recognized as a leading American ensemble largely through the efforts of Maurice Abravanel, Music Director from 1947 to 1979. During his tenure, the orchestra undertook four international tours, released numerous recordings and developed an extensive music education program. A pioneering cycle of Mahler Symphonies conducted by Abravanel was recorded between 1963 and 1974 and included the first commercial stereo recordings of the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies. These recordings also marked the first complete Mahler cycle recorded by an American orchestra. This new release furthers the tradition of outstanding Mahler from the Utah Symphony, with more albums planned for 2016 release in a Utah Symphony series from Reference Recordings.

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Review by Graham Williams - September 12, 2015

Older collectors will remember with affection the cycle of Mahler symphonies recorded by Maurice Abravanel and the Utah Symphony Orchestra that began in the 1960s. Those pioneering recordings (the first complete Mahler cycle to be recorded in the USA) not only introduced Mahler to many listeners but raised the profile of this fine Salt Lake City based orchestra.

Now, from the Reference Recordings Fresh! Label, we have a compelling new account of Mahler's 1st Symphony recorded in state-of-the-art sound from this same orchestra under their current Music Director, the Swiss conductor Thierry Fischer. This was taken from live performances given in the Maurice Abravanel Hall (September 2014)

A glance at the total timing for this SACD (52.55) indicates that Fischer's performance is towards the swifter end of the spectrum for recordings of this work, suggesting that it is to be the antithesis of lingering indulgence, which indeed proves to be the case. The magical opening pages of the first movement are beautifully controlled with the off-stage trumpets suitably distanced yet absolutely audible. The surprising immediacy of the woodwind entries indicate that the engineers have gone for a closely recorded balance ( possibly to avoid audience noise) but any slight lack of the dreamy atmosphere of Mahler's 'Naturlaut' is more than compensated for by the freshness of the playing and the crisply focused sound. The main body of the movement, with the exposition repeat taken, is beautifully shaped with Fischer conveying the sense of foreboding in the passage from 8.13. The gradual build up to the movement's final climax is free from any exaggerated slackening of tempo and the final pages are exhilaratingly joyous.

The Ländler Scherzo is trenchant and beautifully articulated by the orchestra with the bass line especially clearly defined. Fischer's sane tempo maintains the music's momentum while the Trio section demonstrates both his lightness of touch and masterly control of rubato that gives the music a winning insouciance. The contrasting grotesque funeral march that follows shows the superb quality of the individual players in this orchestra, as first muted double bass then bassoon, cello, bass tuba, clarinet and finally plaintive oboe make their entrances over the steady tread of the timpani. The parodic klezmer passages are suitably telling but never over played.

The raging opening of Fischer's finale is a roller-coaster ride with fabulous orchestral playing and demonstration worthy sonics that will be seized upon by both audiophiles and Mahlerites alike. The thunderous percussion and incisive brass of the Utah Symphony are absolutely thrilling, but with the appearance of the lyrical second theme (at 3.22) the Utah strings are given the opportunity to show their mettle. This they do with with ravishingly sensitive playing and subtle nuances of dynamics, whilst Fischer's use of rubato is subtle and free of mannerism. As the material from earlier movements is recalled there is no loss of impetus and the build up to the triumphant final bars is magnificently handled, the coda capped with a room-shaking bass drum.

The recording team from Soundmirror, Boston (Dirk Sobotka, John Newton and Mark Donahue) have, as usual, worked their magic and, as I have already indicated, produced a 5.1 multi-channel recording (64fs DSD) of astonishing tonal richness, clarity and presence.

On the basis of this recording there is little doubt that Thierry Fischer is a Mahler interpreter of some stature and the projected recording of Mahler's 8th Symphony in February 2016, scheduled for release in 2017, will be eagerly anticipated.

Copyright © 2015 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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Comment by hiredfox - November 16, 2015 (1 of 4)

Definitely not a recording for the connoisseur or collector. Some quite frankly poor playing and even more sloppy and uninspiring conducting consigns this particular performance in my book to the endless list of recordings not to waste your money on. Once again, as those of you who read my comments on the concurrent Reference Recording release of Beethoven symphonies, Sound Mirror the usual guarantors of all that is good about our passion have flipped into a new era of recording creativity where orchestral scale and life like performance have been cast aside for whizz-bang sonic effects that have little to do with musical presentation or interpretation but will no doubt please those who have penchant for demo discs to wow their unwitting and witless friends.

Terrible, absolutely terrible... I fell asleep long before half time!

Comment by Gregory M. Walz - November 19, 2015 (2 of 4)

If you read enough recording reviews, especially of orchestral performances, you will almost always eventually find a wide disparity of views regarding the quality of sound and performance. Critiques are thus obviously extremely subjective, even if some perspectives can often be more easily supported than others. This makes for interesting reading and analysis, which I enjoy. It is endlessly fascinating.

Mr. Luke's manifestly derisive comments are par for the course. I, however, much prefer to see the positive in most recordings and performances, rather than any apparent negatives, even if one could reasonably say that a performance and sound quality for a particular recording are not really competing for the "best ever." Connoisseurs or collectors are not always seeking the "best performance ever" either. Some of us like Mahler symphonies played and interpreted on the lighter side, some on the heavier, some more tortured, some more sculpted or even carefree. Some of us are interested in certain orchestras, conductors, record labels, recording engineers, etc.

I happen to live in Salt Lake City, and have attended several hundred Utah Symphony concerts in Abravanel Hall since early 2001. This recording was made in Abravanel Hall. Almost every Saturday morning on KBYU FM 89.1 (based in Provo, Utah), I listen to live, unedited performances of recordings made in Abravanel Hall with the Utah Symphony. Almost all of these are of performances that I attended. I have heard hundreds of these.

I actually attended both live performances in September 2014 from which this "live" recording was mostly made -- there was at least one fifteen minute "patch" session after the final performance on Saturday evening. I find the sound on this recording to have sufficient depth, presence, warmth, and realism for my taste. But it is in the end really just one perspective or prism on the two performances.

The standard archival recordings made in Abravanel Hall (of Symphony Masterworks concerts) are obtained from, as far as I can tell -- at least in the last year or so -- just 1-3 microphones in one array above (about 20 feet) almost dead center in row ten. To me this sounds more "natural," but Soundmirror made this Mahler recording using many microphones spread throughout the breadth and depth of the stage as well as strung about halfway down just in front and slightly over the orchestra. I actually believe that this recording's acoustic space(s) more or less realistically reflects the perspective and balances one would hear from the conductor's podium.

The recording sounds quite similar to the perspective I hear when I sit in seat 31 on row 15 for almost all Saturday performances of major symphonic works. It is certainly not the sound I hear when I attend concerts many Friday evenings during the season seated on the third tier at the back of Abravanel Hall. There the sound is more blended, but still has fine presence. Would Mr. Luke prefer this perspective, for it reflects that one location more than any other in the hall? Perhaps Mr. Luke would prefer a single microphone for recordings. Why not mono rather than stereo? I thoroughly enjoy some of the recordings I have in my collection that were made with that system.

My point is simple in the end: it can be argued that even the best recordings only capture a limited sonic perspective compared to attending a live performance, assuming one still has excellent hearing. But for those of us with a passion for both listening to recordings and attending live performances, there is a continuum that is usually audible, however faintly.

A few final notes as well. I have never been a professional musician, although I did play single and double horns for a number of years about thirty years ago. Easy assertions of "quite frankly poor playing and even more sloppy and uninspiring conducting" bore me to no end. Thierry Fischer is a fine conductor. But no one conductor can be to all tastes. I would not want it any other way. The musicians in the Utah Symphony are excellent, but since when does one orchestral sound make the ideal performance.

My favorite conductor on record is Rafael Kubelik. Live, I have a fondness for Jun Märkl. The Utah Symphony is a major orchestra made up of superb musicians, but we are not in a "major" market like London, Berlin, Munich, or New York. The orchestra has an interesting history nevertheless.

Does Mr. Luke have perfect pitch? Is he a professional musician in a major orchestra? Has he ever conducted? Is he in a location where he attends live performances routinely? Perhaps he meets all of the above criteria, but somehow I doubt it. I would like to be surprised. The points above are of course no requirements for any compelling critique. I enjoy opinionated reviews, but have little warmth for reviews with little if any convincing perspective.

Comment by fausto kantiano - October 10, 2017 (3 of 4)

it appears Thierry Fischer/Utah SO will release Mahler #8 on Reference, with the famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir no less https://twitter.com/RefRecordings/status/917793171589001216

Comment by Luketsu - October 10, 2017 (4 of 4)

Mahler 8 available for pre-order at Presto Classical: https://www.prestoclassical.co.uk/classical/products/8366206--mahler-symphony-no-8-in-e-flat-major-symphony-of-a-thousand