ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
GUSTAV MAHLER - Symphony No. 1 - IvŠn Fischer (Conductor)

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GUSTAV MAHLER - Symphony No. 1 - IvŠn Fischer (Conductor) - Budapest Festival Orchestra - Hybrid SACD - 723385331124 - Released: September 2012 - Channel Classics CCSSA33112

How do you like your Mahler 1?

If you've responded with adjectives like energetic, rugged, exuberant and muscular, than you are reading the wrong review. You should be looking here. If on the other hand you answered that question with words like beautiful, lyrical, youthfully naÔve, expressive and manicured, than you're in the right place. I swear, even the Imperial March (Darth Vader's theme) from Star Wars would sound "angelic" under conductor IvŠn Fischer's hands.

At least four different new recordings of the Symphony No. 1 in D major by Gustav Mahler have been released over the last 60 days or so, all of them with something individual to say. IvŠn Fischer's perception, is that of a work from a young composer innocently pasting together many different ideas, and varied odds and ends from other pieces and sketches, all held together by one boldly romantic ideal. Under many other conductors, you can discern a certain sense of unease and a foreboding of the shadows to come within the later symphonies, already present in the First, but not in this reading. Many aspects of this symphony are well achieved in this performance. The horns are warm and comforting, the strings are rich and vibrant, and in general, the tempos are relaxed. The third movement "Funeral March in the Manner of Callot", for the first time, actually feels like a spurious procession of bizarre characters. The opening pages of the first movement are a study in tranquility and the pure expression of ataraxia. The quieter lyrical moments throughout are heartfelt and tender. But all of this micro-management comes at a price. Fischer's focus on the beauty of details, makes him lose track of the big picture sometimes, and brings about a loss of momentum. His excessive use of rubato here and there tends to bog things down. I know it's sometimes effective to pull back before a big climax to give it more punch, but Fischer's unduly magnified ritardendo leading to the first big outburst in the first movement is way too much, and some of his tempo choices in the finale seem out of place.

But, as usual, the members of the Budapest Festival Orchestra produce a beauty of sound and degree of colour second to none, and the recording engineers at Channel Classics have bottled it. So, if you like your Mahler "sweet and innocent", this recording's for you.

Jean-Yves Duperron - October 2012