MAHLER: Symphony No. 9 – Budapest Festival Orch./ Ivan Fischer –  Channel Classics

MAHLER: Symphony No. 9 – Budapest Festival Orch./ Ivan Fischer –  Channel Classics multichannel SACD 36115, 76:00   (06/09/15) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

With so many recordings of the splendid Mahler 9th Symphony, a new one doesn’t seem like an event, but in fact, any new recording from Channel Classics is worthy of note, and this interesting and incisive performance by Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra makes this SACD something worth talking about.

The 9th was written in 1908-09, and was the composer’s last symphony, although there are many performances of his partially completed 10th, and a complete version brought to life by Deryck Cooke. Mahler died in 1911, never hearing the 9th Symphony performed. There are more than a hundred recordings of the 9th available, the first from the great Bruno Walter in 1938.

Some consider the 9th Mahler’s greatest symphony. Von Karajan called it a “work from another world” and Otto Klemperer called it Mahler’s “greatest achievement.”

We’ve grown accustomed to superb recordings from Channel Classics, and this 5.0 SACD is no exception. The recording is natural, with a solid image of the orchestra up front. I hear hints of the brass from the surrounds during crescendos, making the recording space come alive. Strings are beautifully rendered, and the low end has a realistic punch.

As a performance, Fischer moves at a pretty good clip, and finishes the last movement in just over 22 minutes. Other interpretations draw the Adagio out, some to 30 minutes or so, but Fischer makes the faster tempo work.

Coming after the spectacular 8th Symphony Mahler was clearly looking for something that turned inward, and he accomplished it. The performance of this work is not likely to disappoint. The playing is precise, yet filled with the emotion the 9th requires.

I’ve heard about a dozen recordings of this work, and they all take a slightly different approach. I enjoyed the Bernstein with the Concertgebouw from the 1960s, and the recent Abbado and the Dudamel.

But I’ll return to the Fischer frequently, for the joyful marriage of audiophile quality and the exuberant performance.

—Mel Martin

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