Budapest Festival Orchestra
Press reviews March 18, 2016

A Hungarian Mahler tours Italy

Mahler's Third Symphony was first performed at the Santa Cecilia concerts in 1963, more than sixty years after its premiere, but in recent decades it has been on the programme every three or four years, without anyone being intimidated by the huge commitment. (Il Giornale della Musica/Mauro Mariani)

This time it has ‘taken advantage’ of the tour of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, which after Rome, is playing in Milan tonight and tomorrow will be performing in Bologna, and then in other European countries. On the podium was Iván Fischer, who founded this orchestra in 1983 and since then he has been its music director and the conductor at most of its concerts. So we can understand this must have created a wonderful mutual understanding between conductor and orchestra and they have certainly demonstrated this, but it wouldn’t have amounted to so much without the driving force of the Director’s ideas and the virtuosity of the orchestra. Fischer’s work is very analytical and the results are achieved with a very powerful magnifying glass. However, we should not confuse analytical with objective, because Fischer is also highly subjective, since he chooses where to put his magnifying glass. In the boundless first movement, which lasts a little longer than the whole of Beethoven’s Fifth, we see laid bare how popular, shrill and uncertain it is, as if we were hearing a dance hall orchestra, the first military march, attenuated as if from a distance, with the songs of birds, engraved in miniature. At the other extreme there are explosions with huge blocks of the theme with eight horns in unison (a prodigious instrumental section with a firmness and radiance of sound) and the exhilarating Dionysian procession that ends the movement. It would be impossible for us in our turn to analyse his very thorough analysis of the more than one hundred minutes of the Symphony, but suffice to say it is a wonderful musical journey through the world of Mahler. His magnifying glass focuses on details arousing our interest and admiration, but more of the head than the heart. However there are poignant moments of emotion, like the dreamy intervention of the post horn, the mysterious and profound song of the alto (the excellent Gerhild Romberger) and the sublime endless melody of the sixth and final movement, which was slow, quiet, deeply felt, just as Mahler intended.