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Reviews: Mahler: Symphony No. 2 - Fischer

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Site review by Castor September 21, 2006
Performance:   Sonics:  
Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra have already given us an excellent Mahler 6 on SACD /showreviews/3220#3094 and now follow it up with a truly stupendous Mahler 2.

Fischerís powerful performance of the first movement funeral march is quite swift (21.30) Ė a true Allego maestoso, but nowhere is it ever rushed, just driven forward purposefully. He avoids any irritating interpretive mannerisms of the sort that have sometimes marred his earlier recordings for Channel Classics although the sudden relaxing of the tempo at 16.33 took me a little by surprise. Climaxes have huge impact, yet are easily accommodated by the magnificent recording.

Fischer treats the second movement with great affection, playing it as a jaunty ländler. He brings out the humorous qualities of the music by using subtle rubato to accent the main theme. It is not overdone, but makes MTT appear tired and lacking in imagination in comparison.

The third movement begins with two very arresting timpani thwacks. The tempo is flowing and quite relaxed. Fischer emphasises the sardonic humour of the music and the interplay of the themes are clearly defined by the excellent balance he achieves. The playing is wonderfully alive with a dreamy central section in which the trumpets blend perfectly with the strings. I canít imagine it sounding any better than it does here.

Birgit Remmertís singing in the Urlicht movement is straightforward and un-mannered, though I did find her slightly effortful, and not as moving or involved as, for example, Christa Ludwig for Mehta and Bernstein or the incomparable Lorraine Hunt Lieberson on the MTT version.

The crash that begins the finale will test most listenerís equipment to the full, yet is it is reproduced here with clarity and ease, while the huge crescendo at 10.00 leads to an awesome climax such as is rarely heard outside the concert hall.
No attempt is made to place any of the offstage brass anywhere but behind the orchestra (a lost opportunity or a blessing, depending on your point of view) and the surround channels are used throughout purely for ambience. This is certainly no loss as one can hear in the magical interplay of the solo flute and off-stage orchestra at 19.01.
The entry of the choir (the excellent Hungarian Radio Choir) is clear and firm, unlike the wooliness of so many choirs in a number of other versions of this piece, and is perfectly balanced with the orchestra, while the entry of Lisa Milneís radiant soprano soars exactly as it should. The ending is played, and reproduced, with all the power and grandeur one could wish for.

Jared Sacks really has got the measure of recording in the new Budapest palace of Arts and, as I have indicated, the sound quality on these two SACDs is absolutely superb. The bass instruments are reproduced with much more impact than in the earlier recording, yet the overall sound has even greater transparency. The orchestra is seated as for MTT with the violins split left and right, basses on the left etc. as Mahler would have expected. This arrangement always seems to reveal a wealth of inner detail and that is certainly the case here.

Throughout, the Budapest Festival Orchestra play with the utmost virtuosity for its founder and I cannot recommend this version too highly. This is a great achievement for all concerned.

Copyright © 2006 Graham Williams and

Review by Oakland December 16, 2006 (14 of 14 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
Wow! What a staggering performance! It starts off being merely monumental but over 80+ minutes relentlessly ups the ante to astonishing. The only ingredient missing at the end was the applause. And yours truly provided that for Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra.

Without getting into the nuances of the performance, of which Iím not qualified to do anyway, I have to say (admit) that with Mahlerís 2nd Symphony Iím a outer movement kind of guy. Over the years I have learned to enjoy and appreciate the inner movements, but the real draw are the unmitigated slams and unyielding climaxes of the outer movements. But with this performance I was riveted throughout. The Andante maestoso (second movement) is done with endearment, concern, and passion but with a zest. And I did something I have *never* done. I enjoyed a repeat, back to back, of the 4th (soloist) movement. I'm not qualified to say that this movement is definitive but the previous movements really set it up wonderfully.

The orchestral slams were, of course, expected. Any modern Mahler 2nd Symphony recording, irrespective of how authoritative the interpretation that fails to knock you out of your listening chair fails in my opinion. Period. I am familiar enough with this symphony not to be surprised when the colossal fortissimos occur. But I was still taken aback by the sheer power of the orchestral forces. So, be prepared. What you have in store are some of the most awesome, but *cleanly* and transparent slams in recorded history (must be). There are some real rim rockers here.

The recording is absolutely first rate by any measure I am familiar with. The soloists and the chorus are vividly recorded and so well placed on the stage. The chorusí entry in the last movement is nothing short of majestic. The transparency is sunlit.

Regarding the multi-channel, Channel Classics has learned or listened to criticism about underutilization of the rear channels. They are still unobtrusive (well almost always) but serve to place this recording above other multi-channel and two channel SACDs they have offered that I am familiar with. I believe the multi-channel presentation here actually helps to raise an excellent performance to one of pre-eminence.

But that brings something else to mind. If I am not mistaken I recall upon hearing this performance live that in at least one movement the trumpets (or brass) was off to the side, behind the stage or even behind the audience. I donít remember. This effect was not apparent in the multi-channel presentation. So, apparently all performers in this production were on stage.

I easily rate it 5 stars in *both* two-channel and multi-channel. But an event of this colossal size is clearly best served by multi-channel. In addition to the inherent sound related advantages of multi-channel the numbers, too, are a decided advantage; 5 or 6 speakers (this is a 5.0 recording) are better than two when handling the tremendous workload demanded by this disc.

I have two areas of dissatisfaction, neither performance related. I mentioned how drawn I was to the second movement. Well, just as I was *really* getting into the performance the music stops and I have to get up and switch discs. For me that was an unpardonable interruption. Perhaps the CD layer that cannot readily accommodate more than 80 minutes caused this disruptive split. If so, I wished that this disc were a non-hybrid SACD.

Another thing that would have been nice a touch if Channel Classics would have put a ďtrackĒ in the middle of the last movement where the glorious chorus enters.

But make no mistake about it this is a triumphant performance and recording.

Iím now off to listen to my new Vanska Beethoven 9th.

Robert C. Lang

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Review by JJ June 1, 2007 (6 of 12 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
Avec ses dix cors, ses huit trompettes, ses deux harpes, son orgue, ses cinq percussionnistes, ses deux chanteurs solistes et son chúur mixte, la deuxième symphonie de Gustav Mahler est une úuvre, à la fois, colossale et intime. Offrant avant tout une vision romantique de la mort, elle définit, en contrastes fulgurants, les interrogations éternelles de la vie après l'ultime soupir. Son final, où le chúur fait éclater sa délivrance, devient, sous les mots du compositeur lui-même, un chant profondément humain : "Ô crois, mon cúur. Tu ne perdras rien. Est à toi ce à quoi tu aspires. Est à toi ce que tu aimes, ce pour quoi tu t'es battu. Ô crois : Tu n'es pas né en vain. Tu n'as pas vécu, souffert en vain". Composée durant une longue période allant de 1888 à 1894, la partition fut créée à Berlin le 13 décembre 1895 sous la direction du compositeur. Après une sixième symphonie fort belle, le chef d'orchestre Ivan Fischer poursuit son intégrale avec une "Résurrection" de tout premier plan. Suivant les mêmes options de clarté d'ensemble, d'équilibre des pupitres et de mise en perspective de l'orchestration, il offre ainsi une des versions les plus abouties de l'oeuvre. Les couleurs, que délivre l'orchestre de Budapest, sont d'une beauté exemplaire, qu'une prise de son en pur DSD vient renforcer avec naturel et précision. Fischer laisse alors le discours musical s'épanouir en respirations idoines, marquées au sceau de l'évidence. Cette vision "moderne" semble soudainement porteuse d'une originalité que beaucoup d'autres enregistrements ne possèdent hélas pas. Un Super Audio CD stéréo et multicanal incontournable qui ravira aussi bien les mélomanes que les amateurs de prise de son de démonstration.

Jean-Jacques Millo

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Review by RedFox October 6, 2007 (2 of 12 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
this recording has won the first prize
at the world's most influential classical
music prize-giving (gramophone award):

Editorís Choice Award
Mahler Symphony No 2 - Budapest Festival Orchestra
Ivan Fischer (Channel Classics)

enjoy. it is really a fantastic recording.

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Review by garthoz March 4, 2009 (6 of 7 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
So this is how good recorded music can sound on a home system! How far we have come following Edison's invention! Considering the huge scale of this work, this must surely be a state-of-the-art production. The thought crossed my mind that listening to this was better than attending a live concert. How often does one get to sit in the centre, in the 10th row, with good acoustic, warm sound and ideal reverberation. This was my perceived position in the Palace of Arts Budapest. Listening to this recording gave me a wonderful illusion of a concert hall with the sound of huge forces coming from my equipment.
The dynamic range on this recording was the largest I have heard; from whisper quiet to undistorted crashes. No! Don't be tempted to turn up the volume in the "whispering" moments or there could be damage to ears or equipment in the louder moments. Low frequencies were very cleanly reproduced without a hint of "boom".
I thought the centre and surround channels were a bit soft so I adjusted them up a little to make the illusion more to my liking.
This is most dramatic music; the perfect subject for multichannel reproduction. My Gilbert Kaplan RBCD of the 80's was a stirring interpretation but tiring to listen to, being far too "big" for thin digital sound on two speakers.
The broad and deep sound stage on this Budapest recording enable the listener to hear the fine detail and hence the colourings that Mahler wanted to create. Will this cause more people to discover Mahler?
Just a couple of minor issues. I prefer female singing with less tremolo than we have in the last two movements, but this is personal preference and I'm sure Mahler would be pleased with the effect these soloists have.
Also, i like to read detail about the piece of music I'm listening to and the brief notes in the booklet left me wanting more.
So, overall a wonderful production. Congratulations to all concerned! Can all sound engineers please aspire to this standard?
And more power to Mahler: this recording certainly provides some of that.

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Review by Luukas May 17, 2015 (2 of 4 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Iván Fischer's successful Mahler cycle continues with the Second Symphony - often called "Resurrection". I have five other recordings of the work - Tennstedt (LPO), Jurowski (LPO), Rattle (Warner, Birmingham) & Tilson Thomas (Avie). They are - expect the Thomas' approach - only normal CDs.
Fischer's interpretation is very good. In the first movement he reaches its heavy climaxes perfectly.
But the approach's real culmination is the colossal finale. Channel Classic's outstanding 5.0 surround recording captures the off-stage brass thrillingly. The last seconds are impressive: Fischer knows how to make the best illusion of the resurrection. The musicians give their all skills for this moment. Thrilling experience!
If you have a good surround listening equipment, this recording is for you. But my own favorite is still Klaus Tennstedt's live recording with London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO-0044). I was thrilled when I heard it at the first time. Tennstedt reaches the finale's majestic conclusion better than his any rivals. Audience's wild applause crowns the unforgettable performance.

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