“Fischer really breathes in the atmosphere of Mahler’s precipitous flight to eternity. The crowning glory is, as it should be, the finale. The ‘special effects’ of Mahler’s elaborate Judgement Day fresco have rarely been so magically realised.” Edward Seckerson (Awards issue 2006)
A performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony cannot merely be good, it has to be great. Otherwise the composer’s typically angst-ridden, cataclysmic meditation on life, the universe and everything doesn’t have the utterly shattering effect it must have to mean anything. Recordings which attain this quality are few and far between and to the list of conductors who have managed it – among them Otto Klemperer, Klaus Tennstedt, Leonard Bernstein and Simon Rattle – must now be added the name of Iván Fischer.
It has long been apparent that something very special has happened between Fischer and his Budapest Festival Orchestra, and happily for us Channel Classics has been on hand to record what has become a truly great collaboration. Here, Fischer urges his players ever forward – at once catching that sense of headlong urgency, of an orchestra that might at any moment career off the rails, and yet he manages to hold back a final killer punch for the final pages. Along the way he reveals details in Mahler’s orchestration that are heard as if for the first time, while relishing the composer’s famous sudden shifts in tempo and tone. It’s never comfortable, as Mahler never should be. But it is unforgettable.
Iván Fischer on Mahler’s Resurrection
It is sometimes said that players now have higher standards than in Mahler’s day, and so playing his music does not push them as far as it once did. I’m not sure it is that simple. What players can do better now is the technical mastering of their instruments, so notes are less likely to crack or emerge in a different way to what the player intends – those kind of things. On the other hand, Mahler’s music is expressionist – it is an expression of his incredibly strong feelings. The high level of physical control of an instrument can easily sound cold and detached, less given to those extremes. And you don’t want a smooth ride with Mahler.
I have tried to develop a different method of orchestra leadership. I work, in a sense, from the inside of the musicians, developing their personal involvement and understanding of the work, rather than simply giving instructions. I prefer to work with them as a stage director works with actors. All those markings in this symphony, which sometimes looks neurotically accented, are like desperate attempts to make it understood, not simply as instructions but as a way to make the musician feel what is in the music.
We played the work in concerts before the recording. And each time, when I reach that powerful ending, I get so caught up in the excitement, and that’s good! As a conductor I must put myself in Mahler’s shoes, and imagine that I myself am composing the music in that moment. It’s the only way to perform music of this kind, of pure expression.