Iván Fischer

Mahler: Symphony No. 6 in A minor

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Best known for performing music by modern Hungarian composers such as Bartók and Kódaly, and also for his numerous Mozart recordings in the 1990s, Iván Fischer takes a surprising turn in his repertoire by recording Mahler's Symphony No. 6 in A minor, "Tragic," with the Budapest Festival Orchestra, a bold undertaking for any maestro, but one for which he is well-prepared. Fischer has performed Mahler live on many occasions, and has devoted considerable time to studying the music before committing an interpretation to disc, so his 2005 Channel Classics release cannot be called careless or hastily planned. This symphony may not be as difficult to interpret and perform as are others of Mahler's gargantuan essays, but because expectations are high among devotees, Fischer has a tough job pleasing the cognoscenti. (Curiously, many obsessive Mahlerians have a marked preference for this work, possibly because it is the most coherent and powerful of the purely instrumental symphonies. Fischer's performance can be enjoyed as one of the best sounding to come along in years -- the nuances in the brass and percussion are especially marvelous -- and it can be taken as one of the most reasoned and thoughtful interpretations as well. Fischer aims for clarity and balance, and gets a transparent reading from the BFO that reveals every note. Yet a real feeling for Mahler's exaggerated emotional world seems to be lacking, and when the music should be wildly hysterical, appallingly grotesque, and running headlong toward catastrophe, Fischer's version keeps safely back from the edge of the abyss, dusts itself off, and reminds us that it is, after all, only a symphony, not the end of the world. Alas, the great recordings of the Symphony No. 6 actually do sound like the end of the world, and can almost create physical sensations of heartache and terror. This recording, however well it sounds and despite its many interesting features, has no such power, and is much less gripping than it should have been.

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