Mahler: Symphony No. 9

Iván Fischer / Budapest Festival Orchestra

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Mahler: Symphony No. 9 Review

by Blair Sanderson

Even though the Symphony No. 9 in D major wasn't the last music Gustav Mahler composed (his unfinished Symphony No. 10 holds that distinction), it is often treated as his farewell to life, due to its death-obsessed drama and the beatific transfiguration of its finale. Most interpretations tend in that direction, and most recordings are judged on the intensity of expression and how well the pathos is handled. Iván Fischer's performance with the Budapest Festival Orchestra on Channel Classics doesn't seem to follow those expectations, and the feeling of this performance is somewhat more complicated and enigmatic. Despite his own opinion that the symphony is a farewell, Fischer actually delivers a fairly straightforward and unsentimental account of the score that may raise questions about its supposed meaning, and it doesn't seem especially like a leave-taking. Instead, Fischer lets the music speak for itself -- by turns fragile, terrifying, comic, combative, mocking, and ultimately redemptive -- and the result is a rather interesting performance that challenges the listener to question the old preconceptions. Tortured, the Ninth certainly is, and cathartic, but Fischer's clear-headed performance is exactly what the music needs to be authentic and moving, without reading too much of Mahler's biography into it. The sound of this hybrid SACD release is extraordinary in its clarity, depth, and details, like previous releases in Fischer's cycle, so audiophiles will especially relish the nuances and spacious acoustics.

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