Even just using the MP3 download option, the sound quality from Channel Classics is second to none (I await the hard discs from another source). The dynamic range is huge, yet the softest passages are perfectly clear. The front page news is that conductor Ivan Fischer gets back on track to his usual high standards.
Fischer's Mahler 5 was a strange affair that failed to establish much darkness in the earlier movements (the 5th being a traversal from darkness to light). His Mahler 9, on the other hand, was very good at climactic moments, but everything surrounding those moments sounded rushed. Fischer's 9th lacked the necessary sense of repose in its softer, more zen-like moments. Perhaps Ivan Fischer relates best to Mahler's earlier "Wunderhorn" period, where his previous successes in Mahler currently lie. Are there minor reservations that one could have with this Mahler 3 recording? . . .
Of course there are. For me, the famous posthorn solo in the third movement borders on being a tad too distant (offstage trumpet). Yet, this remains a minor complaint since you CAN hear it (it's truly inaudible on Benjamin Zander's otherwise fine recording). Aside from that point, the entire scherzo is outstanding, which includes an exciting coda that truly packs a punch. As with the recent Bernard Haitink/Bavarian Radio Symphony recording of M3, mezzo-soprano Gerhild Romberger is nothing to write home about in terms of her vocal talents (fourth movement).
However, Fischer gets around this stumbling block by simply not permitting her to linger - he clocks in at a zippy 8:15 (the Fulop discography shows the speed record in the 4th movement belonging to Vaclav Jiracek at 7:50). At first I thought such a quick tempo was only a gimmick, but it actually works. And as is often the case these days, Fischer does observe the odd yet effective "hinaus ziehen" marking for the oboe and english horn solos in this movement (bending the slurs upwards). Romberger isn't great, but she does fine at this pace. She's far more effective here than she was for Haitink, who was a full 1:15 slower (9:34).
My only other minor reservation is that Fischer chooses to play down the two sets of timpani at the very end of the symphony; the two of them rocking back and forth on the dominant and tonic notes. But I too would choose this path over those who pound away as though they were building a barn. Fischer doesn't drop them down nearly as much as Abbado did on his earlier Vienna recording of M3, but it is noticeably softer than usual. However, everything else in the final four minutes is outstanding.
In the final pages after the climax of the long brass chorale (executed fabulously, by the way), I admire the way Fischer has the horns emphasize each descending note of the tonic D triad as the timpani progress along their way - settling on the horns bringing out the fifth of the chord on the very final sustained note. Small detail? . . . sure, but it's one that sounds good and helps the ending to be as intelligent and logical as it is heartfelt - adding a further degree of gravity and inevitability to the proceedings. What better compliment can there be than that.
Going back to the start, Fischer's first movement has plenty of excitement, power and color. Mahler's kaleidoscopic sound effects register as well here as they do on, pretty much, any other top drawer recording of this symphony. More importantly, Fischer establishes the necessary contrast between this, 'everything but the kitchen sink' first movement, and the light and fleet-footed second movement.
It's an odd thing that Mahler's longest and, perhaps, most ambitious symphony should be so lucky on record. While Fischer's new Mahler 3 may not erase memories of Horenstein, Martinon, Bernstein I, Haitink I, Levine, Abbado/VPO, Inbal, Bertini and a whole host of digital and sacd success stories, it's still a welcomed entry that may well 'fill the bill' for those who want to marry outstanding sound quality to a genuinely outstanding performance. Admirers of this cycle need not hesitate.
The hard copy (discs) have arrived. As expected, the sound is excellent (2 channel only at my home). It's in 'digi-pack' form, but it's done in a classy, high quality manner (similar to the Mahler 2 from Channel Classics). While Ivan Fischer graces the outer cover, one opens to a big b&w photo of Mahler - one of the famous ones taken in Amsterdam. I like that. The booklet itself is very thorough, with lots of pictures and an intelligent essay by Clemens Romijn. Lots of technical information is given at the back as well. All in all, one gets the impression that Channel Classics and Fischer went all out on this one.
- Audio CD (2 October 2009)
- Number of Discs: 1
- Format: Audiobook, CD, Import
- Label: Brilliant Classics
- ASIN: B001MWM13O
- Other Editions: Audio CD
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