Mahler Symphony No. 1

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Gustav Mahler
LABELS: Channel Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Mahler Symphony No. 1
WORKS: Symphony No. 1 in D
PERFORMER: Budapest Festival Orchestra/Ivan Fischer


Eloquence in all departments was to be expected from Iván Fischer and his hyper-alert Hungarians. The keen drama is played out in a perfect balance between adaptable strings, clear-profiled brass – the horns especially revelling in the exuberance of the rustic wanderer and country folk – and characterful woodwind. What I hadn’t anticipated was the risk-taking with a couple of crucial tempos. Fischer’s orchestra always trusts his elasticity, and that’s apparent from the very start: every little detail of the natural panorama is freely inflected.

His biggest ask of them comes as Mahler’s first-movement development almost grinds to a halt at its crux – hardly ‘imperceptibly… broader’ as the composer asks – before exploding in headlong fanfares of joy. The contrasts come off, but only truly add up when the same passage of anguished striving returns at the critical point of the finale. This time its outcome is a more dignified cavalcade; and what can so often sound hollow or banal carries brilliant conviction, Fischer keeping it steady until the adrenalin rush of the final bars. The recording, perfect from the gleam of ländlers and lullabies through to the final bass-heavy thunder, plays its part in a vivid interpretation which deserves a place of honour alongside those of Leonard Bernstein, Mariss Jansons and Rafael Kubelik.


David Nice