ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
GUSTAV MAHLER - Symphony No. 9


GUSTAV MAHLER - Symphony No. 9 - Budapest Festival Orchestra - Iván Fischer (Conductor) - Hybrid SACD - 723385361152 - Released: June 2015 - Channel Classics CCSSA36115

When it comes to the music of Gustav Mahler, and more specifically his Symphony No. 9 in D major, conductors have been all over the expressive tactical map. Some have opted for the raw emotional impact (Bernstein), the visionary and transcendental (Karajan), the analytical approach (Boulez), the orchestral brilliance and splendor (Tilson Thomas), the scholarly (Haitink). What Fischer strives for, with what seems to have become his trademark account of not only Mahler but all composers whose symphonies he's recorded, is lyrical expression, fluid tempos, and contrapuntal clarity. In other words, a highly intellectual Mahler who by this time could glean every last bit of structural material needed to build a large scale symphony.

Under his direction, the first movement flows along with its resolution clearly in sight, with a generally swifter tempo than most and a textural transparency that sheds light on even the darkest shadowy recesses of this magnificent movement. He may not hit as hard as others have during those cataclysmic encounters with death and defeat, but he makes up for it with bittersweet fervor in the upswings. The two inner movements are slightly lacking in some respects. One from an inattention to its buffoonish elements and the other from an inability to bring out its demonic and/or demented aspects. Most conductors, at the end of the Rondo - Burlesque dramatically increase the tempo in a mad dash to the finish line. This doesn't take place in this recording. This one movement by Mahler can be a test of skill and endurance on even the top orchestras, and that burst of speed near the end is enough to break even the best of them. My feeling is that Fischer knew that the members of the Budapest Festival Orchestra, as good as they are, would have floundered here. Lapses of ensemble coordination are evident now and then throughout this movement.

Despite these minor glitches, the final movement, combined with the finer elements of the first, more than makes up for it. The Budapest strings certainly have a way of making stuff come alive, and the fact that this movement is almost entirely scored for strings alone, it brings out this orchestra's best side. Again, the tempo here is a bit on the hasty side (as much as 7 to 8 minutes shorter than some of the slower ones), but when Fischer slows everything down during the final five minutes or so, the difference in mood and Mahlerian outlook really stands out and makes for a memorable conclusion to an outstanding symphonic struggle.

Jean-Yves Duperron - July 2015