Presto News - 13th August 2012
Mahler Symphony No. 1 from Iván Fischer
Perhaps I’m getting cynical in my old age, but whenever I hear about the release of a new Mahler symphony recording, I always feel excited and somewhat sceptical in equal measures. Excitement because I love Mahler’s music, and so any excuse to listen to the symphonies again is eagerly pounced upon, and scepticism because, with so many cycles having been issued fairly recently by conductors such as Gergiev, Zinman, and Tilson Thomas, the curmudgeonly part of me wonders: is another recording really necessary? Happily, when it involves Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra, the answer is a resounding yes!
Out next week is their new disc of Mahler’s First Symphony, joining their previous releases of the Second, Fourth, and Sixth. Something I appreciated very much with the earlier instalments was Fischer’s ear for balance, and attention to the smallest details of orchestration, always so crucial in Mahler. The same is true with this performance: for example, all of the bravura counterpoint from the strings in the last movement, so often swamped underneath an egregiously stentorian brass section, is perfectly audible here, without any of the necessary weight or brilliance being sacrificed.
There’s a wonderfully Hungarian character to the sound in a lot of places, especially in the woodwind and brass. I particularly enjoyed the section in the third movement just after the opening statements of a minor-key Frère Jacques (or Bruder Martin, as Mahler would most likely have known it), where tart oboes and unctuous trumpets lead into a passage that supposedly represents a village band. By bringing to the fore touches such as the cheeky, Klezmer-like clarinets, the oompah of the bass drum and cymbals, and exaggerated violin glissandos, Fischer succeeds in creating that rustic, unrefined feel more than most recordings I’ve heard.
I think the main thing that sets this apart as not just yet another recording of Mahler 1 was the pacing; in places this is extremely steady. The most obvious place where this occurs is in the slow build-up to the climax of the first movement: while the whole point of this section is of course to ratchet up the tension more and more, finally exploding in a brass-capped blaze of glory, I’ve never heard it drawn out to anywhere near this extent before. Fischer really makes you wait for it, and it’s certainly very effective: by the end of it you’re so desperate for some kind of release that when that cadence finally arrives, with its boisterous trombones and rollicking horns, it’s truly cathartic indeed!
It’s not all stately, though: the last movement motors along with a great deal of energy, and as I mentioned earlier, all of the fiendish string writing is very much present, with no loss of heft from the brass. Similarly, Fischer doesn’t over-Romanticise the tender, string-dominated passages; they’re definitely not thrown away or rushed through, but equally he refuses to over-indulge and let them get in the way of the overall direction of the movement. There are a few other idiosyncrasies of phrasing here and there: in particular Fischer employs quite a lot of rubato in the Trio section of the second movement, especially on up-beats. Some may think it too fussy, but I have to say that I was pleased to hear a fresh approach to this material.
All in all, then, a very interesting take on perhaps the most familiar of Mahler’s symphonies. Some of Fischer’s decisions are bound to irritate just as many people as they delight, but in any case, when the results are as exciting as this, I’d suggest it’s definitely worth hearing.
To coincide with this new release (which is out next Monday on August 20th), we’re also currently offering up to 25% off a selection of Fischer’s earlier recordings, so if you missed out on any of his previous Mahler instalments, now is the perfect time to rectify that!
Mahler: Symphony No. 1 in D major 'Titan'
Budapest Festival Orchestra, Iván Fischer
James Longstaffe - firstname.lastname@example.org
13th August 2012
Beethoven For All: The Piano Concertos
Daniel Barenboim (piano & conductor), Staatskapelle Berlin
The third release in Daniel Barenboim’s Beethoven For All project is the complete Beethoven Piano Concertos featuring Barenboim as soloist and conductor with the Staatskapelle Berlin.
Nelson Freire: Brasileiro
Nelson Freire (piano)
Brazilian pianist Nelson Freire’s eagerly awaited new album, Brasileiro: Villa-Lobos & Friends, pays tribute to his country’s greatest composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos, upon the 125th anniversary of his birth.
Jiří Bělohlávek conducts Josef Suk & Britten
BBC Symphony Orchestra, Jiří Bělohlávek
Recorded live for the Czech Radio at the concert of the 63rd Prague Spring International Music Festival in the Smetana Hall of the Municipal House, Prague, on June 1st, 2008.
A unique and symbolic encounter: the most distinguished Czech conductor of the present time and a fabulous British orchestra communicate the profound messages in the works of great national composers.
Music from the Eton Choirbook
Tonus Peregrinus, Antony Pitts (director)
The Eton Choirbook is a giant 500 year-old manuscript from Eton College Chapel, and one of the greatest surviving glories of pre-Reformation England. This recording features the earliest polyphonic Passion by a named composer, two heartrending motets for five and six voices, two thrilling settings of the Magnificat, and an extraordinary canon in 13 parts, Jesus autem transiens.
Debussy: Préludes - Books 1 & 2 (24, complete)
Pierre-Laurent Aimard (piano)
Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s profound affinity for the music of Claude Debussy is revealed again on this 2-CD album. Celebrating the pioneering French composer’s 150th birthday, it features Aimard’s stellar interpretations of the complete cycle of both books of Préludes.
Avi Avital: Bach
Avi Avital (mandolin)
Following in the footsteps of Miloš and his guitar revival, Deutsche Grammophon presents the charismatic young Israeli musician Avi Avital, champion of yet another beautiful and underestimated stringed instrument – the mandolin.
Beethoven: Violin Sonata No. 9 'Kreuzer' (arr by Richard Tognetti)
Kolja Blacher (solo violin), Mahler Chamber Orchestra
There are ‘Kreutzer Sonatas’ for violin and piano (by Beethoven), as a novella (by Tolstoy) and as string quartet (by Janácek), to name just three. Here we have a new arrangement of Beethoven’s opus by Richard Tognetti, violinist, composer and Artistic Director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, for solo violin and strings.
Handel: Rinaldo -DVD
Sonia Prina (Rinaldo), Varduhi Abrahamyan (Goffredo), Tim Mead (Eustazio), Anett Fritsch (Almirena), Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Robert Carsen (Stage Director) & Ottavio Dantone (Conductor)
Recorded live at Glyndebourne Opera House, Lewes August 2011. Glyndebourne continues to celebrate the genius of Handel with its first staging of Rinaldo, the work with which he made his sensational London debut – and the first Italian opera specifically created for the British stage.
Blu-ray version also available here.
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