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Mahler: Symphony No. 1 - Fischer (Ivan)

Mahler: Symphony No. 1 - Fischer (Ivan)

Channel Classics  CCS SA 33112

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Mahler: Symphony No. 1 in D major "Titan"

Budapest Festival Orchestra
Ivan Fischer (conductor)


'In full sail' (his original title for the second movement) could be a motto for the whole symphony. Here is the young Mahler, full of optimism. We hear his love of nature and beauty, and his childhood memories. Fragments of distant military music, birdsong and Yiddish folk tunes come to his yet untormented mind. These episodes are real jewels, especially the Viennese trio in the second movement, the brief Klezmer music, then the Schubert-like Lied (did he have the Lindenbaum in mind?) in the third; and the poetic, gentle melody that interrupts the stormy final movement. Admirable too is the architecture, as the composer completes his journey from hell to paradise - dall’inferno al paradiso - in the footsteps of his idol Beethoven.

Mahler was in his late twenties when the world made acquaintance with his first symphony. It was in the Hungarian capital Budapest, and circumstances were difficult. In the diffuse acoustics of the Vigadó Hall, surrounded by hatred and mistrust, Mahler experienced his first major flop. Since then, at each performance I feel that we Hungarians have a moral duty to convince audiences that this is a perfect and exceptionally beautiful masterpiece.

Iván Fischer

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DSD recording

Recorded September 2011 in Budapest, Hungary
Reviews (1)
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Review by Graham Williams - August 8, 2012

Ivan Fischer and his marvellous Budapest Festival Orchestra have a already given us outstanding recordings of Mahler's 2nd, Mahler: Symphony No. 2 - Fischer (Ivan) 4th, Mahler: Symphony No. 4 - Fischer (Ivan) and 6th Mahler: Symphony No. 6 - Fischer (Ivan) Symphonies in performances that not only show these artists to have supreme grasp of the Mahlerian idiom but also demonstrate Fischer's ability to look at these works anew – no easy task to achieve amongst the ever increasing number of recorded versions of these symphonies that seem to be released (or re-released) by record companies almost every month. The freshness and questing nature of his approach is undeniable and even Mahlerites firmly wedded to accounts by some of the great interpreters of the past should investigate these often revelatory performances.

His latest recording, that of the 1st Symphony, benefits immensely from the magnificent quality of the recorded sound achieved by engineers Jared Sacks and Hein Dekker in what for them has become the familiar and excellent acoustic of the Palace of Arts, Budapest. The opening paragraphs of the symphony clearly illustrate their achievement – really pianissimo sustained string harmonics, bright bird calls in the woodwind, warm horns and off-stage trumpet fanfares are all heard in clear and miraculously balanced perspectives. Fischer's evocation of Mahler's “ like a sound of nature” could not have been better captured by the skill of these sonic magicians.

The first movement is taken at a genial pace that allows appreciation of the immaculate orchestral playing, but as the music darkens (from13'.20”) and the movement's climax is approached Fischer slows the tempo down considerably before building up to a wonderful cathartic release of tension capped by ringing percussion, blazing trumpets and whooping horns. It is a nuance that will, like all such interpretive ideas, please some listeners and annoy others but the exhilaration that it engenders is palpable. The scherzo comes as a really bracing breath of fresh air. Fischer adopts a brisk tempo which, thanks to the clear articulation of the lower strings, gives the movement an exhilarating lift. The central trio section is played with a delightful lightness and affectionate rubato that never becomes mannered. In that respect one is reminded of similar passages heard in this conductor's superlative recording of Mahler's 4th Symphony. Fischer and his players are perfectly attuned to the different moods of vulgarity and serenity expressed in the third movement's canonic funeral march. The Klezmer passages in this movement are handled with humour but without excessive parody and it is a pleasure to hear the cymbal and bass drum reproduced so crisply in these sections as well as the quiet tam-tam strokes elsewhere.

As one might expect from these musicians, the tempestuous finale, with its journey from anguish to triumph, is characterised by breathtaking orchestral playing throughout. The statement of the 'big tune' - three minutes into the finale - begins initially with a restrained simplicity that gradually blossoms into an impassioned climax, while the remainder of the movement proclaims the controlled virtuosity of the Budapest players right through to the symphony's cataclysmic conclusion. Those seeking the histrionics of a Bernstein may be slightly disappointed by Fischer's faithful adherence to what is in the score, but in the final analysis this thrilling performance is one to live with, and one's admiration for what Fischer achieves grows with each subsequent playing of this superb recording.

Unreservedly recommended.

Copyright © 2012 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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Comments (6)
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Comment by Waveform - October 15, 2017 (1 of 6)

Oh dear, I didn't remember how good this recording really was until listened to it in its entirety few days ago. Fischer's performance made a great impression from the mystical night-to-day opening to the triumphant ending of the finale. Channel's 5.0 multichannel sonics captured perfectly the acoustics of the Budapest Palace of Arts using just the right amount of ambience from the rear channels. A pure delight, then, where I will return often.

Comment by Marcus DiBenedetto - December 19, 2021 (2 of 6)

The NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra performs Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1 under the baton of Manfred Honeck. A concert recording from November, 18th, 2021, is now posted to YouTube. URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lurl-klLJWo. This is the full 1:02:05 concert. Sure, sonics on YouTube are not great but if you want to see Maestro Honeck in action, take a look. Viewer reaction was very positive.

Having watched/heard this recording a few times now, I love how Honeck allows the bass and strings to carry a dominant dark tone for almost 5 minutes. He introduces the winds menacingly until it is resolved in a more melodic tone. Simply breathtaking. I hope he commits this interpretation with the PSO to SACD some day.

Comment by Cool Customer - December 20, 2021 (3 of 6)

Honeck Mahler 1: Mahler: Symphony No. 1 - Honeck

Comment by Marcus DiBenedetto - December 22, 2021 (4 of 6)

Thanks for the link. However, stereo only and $70 on Amazon. But, I did check the PSO calendar and believe it or not, on April 22, 2022, "Manfred Honeck conducts Mahler’s wild, exuberant First Symphony". Probably 2024 before we get an SACD of the performance. But, I can wait.

Comment by hiredfox - December 30, 2021 (5 of 6)

Better still Marcus, buy yourself a ticket and get down there to listen live. If I lived Stateside that's where I'd be pandemic or no pandemic.

For what it is worth I have cut and pasted my 2011 review of Honeck's Exton Mahler 1 disc from the SA-CD.net website

Comment by RCC - December 31, 2021 (6 of 6)

I heard Honeck and Pittsburgh perform Mahler 5, on a well-filled program with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto 5 featuring Martin Helmchen, at Lincoln Center in 2019. It was exciting, sublime, brilliantly conceived and executed; in short, everything you’d expect given the quality of the recordings. I’m planning a trip to Pittsburgh to hear that Mahler 1in April, like the man said, pandemic or no pandemic!