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Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Ádám Fischer, Barbican review - ferocious Mahler 9 without inscape | reviews, news & interviews

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Ádám Fischer, Barbican review - ferocious Mahler 9 without inscape

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Ádám Fischer, Barbican review - ferocious Mahler 9 without inscape

Brutally brilliant playing, but inwardness only came at the end of this performance

Ádám Fischer conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in the BarbicanBoth images by Mark Allan

Give me some air! Stop screaming at me! Those are not exclamations I'd have anticipated from the prospect of a Vienna Philharmonic Mahler Ninth Symphony, least of all under the purposeful control of Ádám Fischer. Less well known here than his younger brother Iván - both have been admirably outspoken critics of Orbán's regime - Ádám has impressed with his stunning Budapest Wagner and his masterful Mahler cycle as chief conductor of the little-known Düsseldorf Symphony. Maybe if he'd brought the Düsseldorfers here, there would have been more of a sense of inner feeling; maybe the Viennese are simply too secure in their Mahler; and certainly they would have sounded less brutally brilliant in a more spacious acoustic.

The Barbican is bad for Mahler; it's difficult for all but those conductors familiar with its magnifying tendencies to achieve depth, perspective and genuine pianissimos (though Kirill Petrenko managed it in a lightly sprung Mahler Seventh with the Bavarian State Orchestra). Only at the end did this interpretation withdraw as it should. In the first movement, the fragile humanity which gets blitzed by the threat of mortality again and again simply sounded too confident; nor did the febrile Fischer give it the occasional space it needs (a volatile, relatively fast reading is fine, as Abbado proved in Lucerne, so long as the rubato "gives" enough from time to time). Certainly the attacks have rarely sounded more feral, yet at the same time dazzlingly clear-textured, and the brass's apocalyptic warnings were focused in their blatancy; but I didn't feel the anguished heroism of the symphonic protagonist's climb out of each abyss, nor the pathos in a beautifully played twilight coda. (PIctured below: Fischer and the orchestra - NB: still few women in important positions).Vienna Philharmonic and Fischer at the BarbicanGrotesquerie in the middle movements reached a high watermark in the superlative chunters and shrillings of the VPO woodwind, the supremacy of the horns and a hyper-brilliant, angry tornado at the end of the Rondo-Burleske; again, though, what should have been the balancing other-worldiness - echoing the symphony's opening theme in the scherzo, anticipating the finale's death-threnody in its successor - simply stayed with its feet firmly planted on firm earth.

Were those glorious strings in the end-of-life hymn simply too knowing? More air around the sound in a venue like Symphony Hall Birmingham or the Müpa concert hall in Budapest, perhaps the best acoustic of all which Fischer knows so well, might have told a different story; here, until we reached the last cries and whispers, it was simply the masterful harrowing of hell. Togetherness was always in evidence, as it hadn't been when Daniel Harding conducted the orchestra in the Sixth Symphony at the Proms. Kudos to the tirelessly sophisticated playing and the thrill of the more lunatic charges; but this heart stayed cold.

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