Review by georgeflanagin August 25, 2006 (9 of 9 found this review helpful)
|This is a bit long winded. For ADHD readers who want the bottom line: The Andante is special. The Scherzo is satisfying, and the outer movements seem a bit muted. The recording is voiced to direct your attention to the lower instruments, but it is clear and spacious. If you feel like liberating $20, add this disc to your collection. If you want to know why I feel this way, read along.
An amateur's review of any Mahler symphony is a considerable undertaking of questionable contribution to the base of musical knowledge. A review of #6 is particularly tough in the SACD market. A survey of recent Fanfare Magazine articles indicate that this piece of music is a poster child for the high tech recording industry, and the catalog is already well populated with sentimental favorites. At the top of that list is the MTT / SFO recording to which many Americans attach special significance because of its date of recording.
Here we have Ivan Fischer delivering his vision of Mahler in the inaugural recording in the new Palace of the Arts recording hall in Budapest. Fischer points out that although he shares an Austro-Hungarian Jewish background with Mahler, his love of the music is deeper than this similarity.
The considerable merits of this recording are easier to review than is the music, so I will start there.
The balance between direct and reflected sound is, in my opinion, "just right." The hall ambience is involving without being distracting. I'm sure listeners' perceptions of the correctness of the balance may differ, and it is worth noting that my listening room is just about completely dead on the floor and ceiling, with considerable scattering on all the walls. Also, the Quads are rather directional and don't provide much side wall bounce, anyway.
I think of recordings as being "voiced" in the same way we talk about pianos being voiced. I have noticed that if we tell our piano technician to change the voicing of the piano, he is able to do it reliably. Felt, strings, hammers, etc., can be changed. It is still the same piano, but it sounds different. So it is with recordings.
As we at sa-cd.net know, Channel Classics likes to voice their recordings so that the weight of lower instruments is up to the live performance. I think we are so un-used to hearing this in our homes that we sometimes perceive this as bass-heaviness, when it is actually quite realistic. This recording is no exception. Low brass? Present in force. Contrabass violins? Gutsy and full.
The recording does not sound muffled or dull. The flutes, high percussion, and violins are clear and present. The perspective is that of a close seat in the main seating area.
About the music ....
Fischer's Andante is a relief, a surprise, and an inspiration. I looked through our stack of Mahler 6 recordings, and the slowest in our collection is Sinopoli/Philharmonia/1987.
Let's take a look at the timings for Fischer, Sinopoli and MTT. The following table is presented in 1st, Scherzo, Andante, Finale order.
Fischer: 22:23 / 12:52 / 13:43 / 29:23
MTT: 24:33 / 14:02 / 17:27 / 31:22
Sinopoli: 25:08 / 13:33 / 19:48 / 34:28
As you can see, the Fischer tempos are faster in all cases. I think of "andante" as having to do with walking, and if Sinopoli were walking, it must have been with a cane. Particularly in the case where this movement is played second, I think the faster pace is desirable.
Fischer's scherzo continues the picked-up pace. It is vibrant and driven. The two middle movements, in whatever order they are played, are some of the most satisfying I have heard.
The outer movements seem a bit subdued to me, and I can't quite pin down whether my response has to do with the tempi or with something else. This is a "no third hammer blow" performance, but the first two come off rather better in my opinion than other reviewers have indicated.
All the orchestral climaxes are loud and uncompressed, and the playback is truly without strain. QUESTION FOR READERS: I have begun to wonder if there is not a subjective expectation of distortion during loud passages, and as home listeners we translate that strain in the sound into an emotional perception of stress in the music?
One option in these days of the Olive CD players is the ability to put together a fantasy performance from several different conductors and orchestras. My preference would be MTT for the opening movement, followed by the Zander Scherzo, Fischer's Andante, and back to Zander for the finale.
Get the disc. Enjoy the sound.
George Kelly Flanagin
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