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Reviews: Mahler: Symphony No. 1 - Fischer

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Reviews: 6

Site review by Castor August 8, 2012
Performance:   Sonics:  
The text for this review has been moved to the new site. You can read it here:

Review by cherrell August 8, 2012 (22 of 26 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
I guess I will start at the beginning. The opening of the 1st movement, that A chord, the descending 4ths, is absolutely sublime. It was almost like hearing it for the first time. No tension, just pure sound. I must point out the trumpet fanfares and how much I enjoyed that they were in the distance as Mahler asks. This is often not followed, but this can really make or break it for me. The exposition was lyrical, musical, almost chamber like in it's sonority. Fischer really handles the transition from the exposition to the development very well, very connected. I also like how he doesn't linger on the espessivo markings; he keeps that pulse going. When the 4th movement makes it's sudden appearance in the 3rd section of the development it is really how it should be, earth shattering, it should make you jump. You guys made me jump!

The scherzo is really a peasant dance. Fischer truly gives us that. It seems as if he has the rhythms in his blood. You can hear the foot stomping, hooting and hollering. It's rustic and earthy. I love the muted horns and the character of the winds. The trio sections is very romantic and warm, handled with much care.

The opening round of the 3rd movement is supposed to be dull, shadowy and dark. This is generally not the case. Here we find subtle entrances playing off of the solo base, matching his articulation and tone. This lends a huge amount of cohesiveness that this section can sometime lack. This leads into the 'klezmer' section where I get more of sad/happy feeling than happy/party that is usually offered. Again, in the middle section, we are brought down to almost chamber proportions, the instruments singing very much.

The first 2:45 or so of the last movement are some of the best Mahler I've ever heard in my life. Mind you, I'm only 34, but I've listened like an addict for the past 20 years. The playing of the strings, 1st and 2nd violins in particular, made my head shake, it's quite violent. I loved it. Your bass drum strike at the beginning makes me want a new sub-woofer. I feel like I could go on, measure by measure, but I won't. This last movement made me sit in silence for 4-5 minutes after the recording was over. I've not done that for 3 years; that was after hearing Alan Gilberts Mahler 3 with the New York Philharmonic.

A few general things:
1. The recording quality is the best I've heard. The score is like an x-ray. For the first time I felt like I could hear as a conductor hears. Number 16 in the 3rd movement is the perfect example of that.
2. Ivan Fischer is a true Mahlerian.
3. His sense of balance and dynamics is truly masterful. He really gets ever little gradient of dynamics out of the Festival Orchestra.
4. That bass drum!

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Review by seth September 13, 2012 (17 of 19 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
This is a thoroughly enjoyable performance of the Mahler 1. While I find that it lacks the same unique insight that Fischer brought to the Mahler 2 and 4, this recording is still way ahead of a very crowded field (which is led by Gielen).

If there is a stylistic choice that permeates the performance, it's clarity. Fischer makes it remarkably easy to hear each line in the score. Instead of hearing a huge mass of strings, there's a clear delineation between each section. It's also worth noting that the symphony is luxuriously played. Sometimes clean/transparent performances result in the orchestra sounding a bit thin, but not in this case. The BFO's playing is quite warm.

Thankfully Fischer does not get fussy with the tempo changes. There are three major ones of note, two of which work quite well. In the transition to the 1st and 4th movement codas (right before the horn triplets that lead into the fff tuttis), Fischer slows the tempos down to a near stop. And then of course the orchestra explodes. It works quite well.

My only objection with the whole performance is the other noticeable tempo change. After playing the 4th movement coda slowly -- which I like -- towards its end (#60 for those keeping track at home) Fischer shifts into a fast tempo. I find it to be quite jarring. I checked the score and at the bar where Fischer does this Mahler wrote "from here on no longer broadly." I got to give credit to Fischer for paying such close attention to the score -- most, if not all other performances seem to ignore this note -- but I feel like if Mahler wanted the orchestra to leap into a gallop he would have been explicit about that. I interpret the note as saying that if you've been slowing down from #56 where Mahler writes "triumphal" and "don't rush," you can now pick the pace up a bit.

As for the sound quality:

Dare I say it, but this is probably the best sounding SACD I own. It's simply incredible in multi-channel. Huge dynamic range, realistic sense of depth, reverberant but not echoey, very wide stereo image that envelopes you, etc. I could go on and on with all of the usual superlatives, but simply put, from now on when I want to show off my sound system to people, this will be the recording I put in.

Bottom line: highly recommended.

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Review by Wartybliggens September 15, 2012 (11 of 16 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
I won't repeat the types of things that the other reviewers here and elsewhere are better at describing. I'll simply say that this is the first time I've truly enjoyed this symphony and feel like coming back to it again. Mr. Hurwitz at Classics Today, while giving the highest rating, still has some nitpicks and slightly prefers the Honeck/Pittsburgh version, which I also own. That version didn't do for me what this one does, which is make all the music seem natural, not to mention very beautiful. This may sound like crazy talk to Mahler lovers, but it has taken me quite some time to like Mahler, despite my considerable exploration of the byways of classical music. A while back I set out to force myself to appreciate Mahler. It takes a performance that really communicates and a recording that can capture it all, like this one, to make me see what it's all about. I propose a toast to this orchestra, and to the engineers. This is truly fantastic orchestral playing, which jumps out in living color on my 5-channel system and shakes my house.

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Review by JJ January 13, 2013 (10 of 18 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
The musicologist Constantin Floros once wrote: “In Gustav Mahler’s lifetime, his music was passionately contested and even rejected; in the years following the Second World War, it conquered the musical world in an impetuous and irresistible leap. One might say that the bet by Ernst Otto Nodnagel, who at the first performance of the Forth Symphony on November 25, 1901 in Munich declared that “the present belongs to Struass, the future to Mahler,” has been realized. Mahler’s symphonies have today found more favor in the public’s ear than the symphonic poems of the musician who finds himself out-coursed and whose reputation was once the more stellar.” First performed in its definitive version in four movements in 1896, the First Symphony by the Austrian composer was initially entitled “Titan” in reference, it would seem, to the novel by Jean-Paul Richter (1763-1825) which “retraces the life of a character whose sole arm, before a pernicious world, is an exceptional interior force made of exaltation, imagination and pure dreams” (Marc Vignal). Once again, Ivan Fisher both subjugates and envelops us with a vision of the work which is most original. Starting from the first notes, his musical direction tells us a story that leads us forward relentlessly until the last bar of the work. The sound recording is as always penetrating, precise, and uses the acoustic space well. In short, this is an artistic accomplishment.

Jean-Jacques Millo
Translation Lawrence Schulman

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Review by Luukas June 11, 2015 (2 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
[First impression]
I was surprised, even disappointed, when I heard this at the first time.

The performance is very good. The first movement begins from the shadows, quietly and mysteriously. Fischer builds the impressive raising to the main theme. The whole movement's tempo is slower than usually - but it is of course the conductor's own choice. For this reason Fischer's approach remembers Bernstein's late recording with the Concertgebouw Orchestra (DG).
The second movement is lovely detailed. Fischer finds many new interesting things from the score, he follows its markings and wishes. I listened the album with the Universal Edition's Study Score (UE 34314) - which based on the Critical Edition - and here the all revisions are taken seriously.
The slow movement is just OK. Budapest Festival Orchestra has a long experience with Mahler's music - the first performance was given at the Budapest.
The great finale is like a battlefield, like a love story. The stormy opening is impressive here: Channel has captured the bass drum's strokes thrillingly! The beautiful middle section is touching.

The recording's huge dynamic range was a bit "shock" for me. Be careful with your subwoofer!
There are this recording's good and bad sides:

+ (What was good)
• The natural and clear surround sound
• The impressive and virtuosic playing of the orchestra
- (What was bad)
• Fischer's tempo choices - they changed too quickly
• I heard the French horns from the left surround speaker - the engineering team didn't used them for the reverb.

Perhaps this will be better when I listen it again. Let's hope that Hannu Lintu and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra will make better work. Ondine has planning to release the multi-channel album on November.


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