MAHLER: Symphony No. 6 in A Minor “Tragic” – Budapest Festival Orchestra/Ivan Fischer – Channel Classics

by | Oct 19, 2005 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

MAHLER: Symphony No. 6 in A Minor “Tragic” – Budapest Festival
Orchestra/Ivan Fischer – Channel Classics Multichannel SACD CCS SA
22905,  78:42 (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi) ****:

The premier recording (February 2005) from the Palace of Arts in
Budapest belongs, appropriately, to Gustav Mahler, whose “combative”
Sixth Symphony finds a magnificent, kindred spirit in conductor Ivan
Fischer. Fischer, himself from an assimilated Jewish Austro-Hungarian
family, feels that his lifelong admiration and respect for the composer
warrants a cycle – especially as the Millenium City Center in Budapest
and its National Concert Hall mean to become an international hub for
intellectual and musical thought. Shaped on the principles of a Gothic
cathedral, the concert hall canopy weighs 45 tons, upholstered all
around, and it can adjust its reverberation time from less than one
second to four seconds, deadening or sustaining the acoustical decay
according to the needs of the music. Given the surround sound of the
present disc, the effects of Mahler’s anguished vision can be intimate
or shattering, as required.

Perhaps the most consistently convulsive and uncompromising of his
tormented visions, the A Minor Symphony (1903-1905) of Mahler has had
relatively few epic, recorded adherents; but Mitropoulos, Horenstein,
Kubelik, and Bernstein come to mind, even a rather potent version from
Erich Leinsdorf.  The titanic struggle of the opening death march
has the F Major swooning interlude as a balm, presumably a musical
evocation of Alma Mahler’s guiding spirit, the Eternal Feminine leading
Mahler onward. Fischer opts for the Andante moderato to follow the
excruciating conflict; and the ravishing, heartbreak and yearning
provide an emotional balance in the midst of private chaos. The Scherzo
enjoys the virtues of surround sound, as do the cowbells do in the
first movement, here with antiphonal strings, brass, tympani and
triangle synthesizing natural rustic elements with the eerie side of
the beer hall. My own response has been to compare the Scherzo’s
ferocious metrics to the scherzo movement from Beethoven’s Quartet, Op.
59, No. 1. Fischer’s opening chords for the Finale: Allegro moderato
are incandescently ominous, magic and dire at once. What hath Man
wrought? Abandon All Hope. . .the apocalyptic and bucolic contend for
supremacy in a Witches’ Brew mixed with innocence and savage fury.
Fischer ends with two, not three, fatal hammer strokes, convinced that
a muted ending is better; at least it is more akin to Eliot’s spirit
that the world ends with a whimper. “It sounds scary,” urged my
ten-year-old daughter. Really.

–Gary Lemco

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