Fischer’s Beautiful, Personal Mahler First Symphony
The playing on this disc is so beautiful that it will take your breath away. The silky sound of the soft strings in the trios of the scherzo and funeral march, light as a feather but never lacking in body, is amazing. In the lyrical second subject of the finale, Iván Fischer manages the gradual crescendo to the melodic climax with amazing finesse. There are countless memorable touches of color: the fruity bass clarinet in the first movement, the soft tam-tam strokes in the third, and at the other end of the dynamic scale, the powerfully pounding timpani at the finale’s two triumphant climaxes.
There are three moments I noticed that may be considered questionable. The triangle player comes and goes in the first movement, maybe because he makes too much of the difference between fortissimo and merely forte. You might think this trivial, and in a sense it is, but if you know the symphony really well (or have played the percussion parts countless times in concert, as I have), you may find it distracting. Fischer’s generous rubato and heavily sculpted phrasing in the trio of the scherzo veers close to mannerism, despite the gorgeousness of it all. Finally, at the very end, Fischer doubles the tempo for the last fanfare. It’s very exciting, particularly as the orchestra’s horns and other brass really do themselves proud, and for just that reason a slightly slower speed might have been preferable.
None of these issues justifies any reduction in the rating. There is absolutely nothing to gripe about otherwise. As with all the performances from Fischer and his orchestra, conductor and ensemble operate as a single organism. You may or may not like everything that he does, but the legitimacy of his ideas and the conviction with which he projects them are never in question. If I have a slight preference for the recent Honeck/Pittsburgh recording on Exton it’s only because of what strikes me as its slightly greater feeling of spontaneity. Certainly Channel Classics’ SACD sonics are just as vividly realistic, and I know this performance will provide many, many years of pleasure. It’s a great time to be a Mahler fan.
Review by: David Hurwitz