CD review: Ivan Fischer, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Mahler 9

First published in the Guardian on 4 June, 2015

Mahler: Ninth Symphony
Budapest Festival Orchestra/Fischer

I can’t stop playing the last movement of this recording. Mahler’s long farewell — Adorno once called it ‘staring into oblivion’ — is given heartbreaking intensity and tenderness by the Budapest Festival Orchestra, always an ensemble of great character and conviction. If BPO concerts usually entail novelty stage tricks or surprise choral encores, the actual interpretations of music director Ivan Fischer can be surprisingly traditional. And what a fine Mahlerian he is: this account is superb for the orchestra’s deep, old-world sound, for a generosity of expression that clinches the work’s turmoil but draws radiantly life-affirming conclusions. Fisher whips through the score in just 75 minutes but pauses for breath when the music needs it. There’s fondness in opening and raw violence as the calm ruptures; the Landler is sturdy and sincere, a blur of swirling couples from a bygone Vienna, and the Rondo has an earthy vigour that reminds us where this orchestra comes from. The close is less Adorno’s gloomy oblivion, more the glowing hope of Berg’s description: “a tremendous love for this earth, the longing to live on it peacefully.”