Symphony No 3 in D Minor
Gerhild Romberger ms, Cantemus Children’s Choir, Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer
Channel Classics CCSSA38817

As a schoolboy I once read a review of Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt’s Beethoven Nine which carried the headline “A Ninth to live with”. This phrase came to mind when listening to Iván Fischer’s Mahler Three. It’s not the greatest Mahler Three I’ve ever heard: that laurel surely belongs to Jansons and his Royal Amsterdam Concertgebouw account which I reviewed in 2011 and wrote “playing not just beyond praise but beyond belief”, but I’d also recommend Fischer’s unhesitatingly in terms of the playing, recording and interpretation. It’s the sort of unexaggerated yet anything-but-neutral performance that rewards repeated listening.

You won’t hear anything like the deranged brilliance of Bernstein’s 1962 version (still fabulous after 55 years) whose opening movement (a symphony in itself) sounds like a mélange of Ives and Sousa at times. When played too slowly, this movement can make the work seem like a dozy anaconda after it’s just devoured a water buffalo (although David Robertson’s recent superlative SSO performance at a staggering 104 minutes all up was the exception that proved the rule, in this regard). Fischer takes just under 34 minutes, which sounds just right.

In the “Walt Disney” second and third movements, the ambience is again just right: the music smiles benignly and the post horn solo conveys a perfect sense of heat haze summer torpor rather than sluggishness. Nor does the woodwind in the fourth movement sound grotesque and exaggerated as in Rattle’s Berlin Philharmonic version. Incidentally, contralto Gerhild Romberger is fine too. The last movement is something of a minefield  after so much action and some performances sag under excessively portentous tempi, making it a sort of dry run for the valedictory climax of his Ninth. Fischer layers the sound masterfully while maintaining just the right amount of tension, unlike, again, Rattle, who throws the final bars away. Laurels all round, I say!