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Here's your classical disc of the week for Jan. 12, 2014. Each week CBC Radio 2's In Concert looks at new classical music releases and selects one recording that you'll want to know about.

Artist: Budapest Festival Orchestra conducted by Iván Fischer

Repertoire: Symphony No. 5 by Gustav Mahler

Label: Channel Classics

There’s a belief — based, it must be said, in some element of reality — that conductors and orchestras follow a life-cycle similar to a marriage. There’s the honeymoon phase when all is fresh and new. After a few years things start to get comfortable and the sound of the orchestra begins to take on the contours of the conductor’s aesthetic, like an old pair of slippers. And then comes boredom, ennui, indifference — the musical equivalent of the seven-year itch when relations between conductor and musicians can get downright nasty.

Except, it seems, if you’re Iván Fischer and your life partner is the Budapest Festival Orchestra.

Iván Fischer leads the Budapest Festival Orchestra in Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, the final movement.

Hard to believe, but Fischer founded this orchestra 30 years ago. But even after all that time, there’s no sense that conductor and players are making music together with any less urgency or passion today than they did at their first rehearsal back in 1983. If anything, the relationship just keeps getting stronger.

The latest evidence is on a transcendent recording of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. Fischer and his Hungarian orchestra have already recorded Mahler’s 1st, 2nd, 4th and 6th to glowing reviews. This new release is another stunner.

At the core of this symphony is a deep and profound anguish, ultimately resolved with a radiant triumph. Fischer calls the fifth, “the most Jewish of all Mahler’s symphonies. The first movement takes us to the unmistakable mood of Jewish lamentation, the finale to the childlike vision of messianic joy.”

The orchestra’s brass section pierces the gloom with a thrilling brilliance, while the strings provide a warm, supple foundation. Listen, especially, to the Adagietto, one of the most sublimely gorgeous slow movements ever written. The playing is understated, almost reverent, and achieves the sublime without ever succumbing to the maudlin.

After 30 years, Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra have found a way to keep it fresh. Long may they continue a most remarkable musical partnership.


music.cbc.ca, Denise Ball