Fans of Gustav Mahler's joyous Symphony No. 4 in G major will relish this buoyant performance by Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra, featuring soprano Miah Persson, for it is wholly in keeping with the light tone and merry spirit of the score and is as delightful as any other recording on the market.
Claudio Abbado was an Italian conductor. One of the most celebrated and respected conductors of the 20th century, particularly in the music of Gustav Mahler, he served as music director of the La Scala opera house in Milan, principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, music director of the Vienna State Opera, founder and director of Lucerne Festival Orchestra, music director of European Union Youth Orchestra and principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra.
The musical reconstructions industry keeps gathering pace, but few works have attracted as much attention as Mahler's 10th Symphony. Joe Wheeler (who died in 1977) was a brass-playing British civil servant with a passion for Mahler. This completion (itself in an edition by the conductor here, Robert Olson) uses the leaner orchestration of the composer's later years. But does it sound Mahlerian? Certainly more so than Remo Mazzetti's 1997 version, but neither caps Deryck Cooke's acute sense of authentic detail and color in his legendary edition.
Fischer’s performance of the Sixth is quite similar to Abbado’s recent live recording for DG. Textures are generally light and transparent, with a swift opening march that, by the same token, never sounds unduly rushed or trivialized. The andante comes second, not the best option in my view, but Fischer has the intelligence to treat it as a true andante, and not as an adagio (which is a more legitimate possibility when it’s placed third). However, in contrast to Abbado’s boring Berliners, Fischer’s orchestra plays better, and he’s much better recorded. Just listen to the characterful brass in the coda of the first movement, with a particularly fine first trumpet, or the splendid woodwinds in the trios of the scherzo. The emphasis on fleetness never compromises expressivity, as happens in Berlin.
This is Ivan Fischer’s second Mahler symphony for Channel Classics with the Budapest Festival Orchestra, his first being the Sixth recorded in February 2005. His opening to this Resurrection symphony, its hero’s Funeral Rites, is disciplined with touches of brusqueness in the brass. But as this is supposed to ask ‘Why did you live?’ I’m very aware of Fischer’s empathy for the visionary aspects of the movement, as if to answer ‘To experience all that’s lovely’.
Claudio Abbado and his hand-picked players of the Lucerne Festival Orchestra take their acclaimed Mahler cycle to a new level with this performance of the most complex and compelling of the symphonies, the intense, searching Ninth. Abbado brings all his renowned clarity of vision and the experience of a lifetime to this contradictory music – half valedictory, half life-affirming – and his “orchestra of soloists”, including some of the leading instrumentalists of our time, revels in the transparent textures and virtuosity of Mahler’s last completed symphony. “A rendition … of astonishing depth and subtlety” (Daily Telegraph).