Thierry Fischer conducts the Utah Symphony in Mahler 1 on Reference Recordings

Thierry Fischer took over the reins of the Utah Symphony Orchestra in 2009 and since then has made a significant musical mark in the state. By many accounts, the orchestra had been in the doldrums for some time. Installing the Swiss conductor was a very popular decision and from the evidence on this new Reference Recording of Mahler’s 1st Symphony, the orchestra seems to be the beneficiary of an outstanding musician. 

Since Fischer’s inception, a third of the orchestra’s personnel has changed. No slashing and burning, it seems. Attrition for the most part. An orchestra needs a good balance of youth and experience. It sounds like Utah is on its way to having the best of both worlds. 

I first heard Fischer conducting the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra many years ago as he was making his transition from stellar flutist (Abbado’s principal in the Chamber Orchestra of Europe) to the podium. Observing Abbado at close range for ten years is a hell of a good musical education, especially if you have the urge to conduct. 

This new Mahler 1 is an excellent example of the developed musical partnership. The orchestra sounds good in all departments, with some soloists highlighted to outstanding effect. The woodwinds are especially fine. String ensemble is good with only the brass needing a little coaxing to the next level. 

Thierry Fischer conducts the Utah Symphony. Photo credit: Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune

Thierry Fischer conducts the Utah Symphony. Photo credit: Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune

Fischer and his musicians are so musical in this potboiler of a symphony -- together, they make the ‘Star Trek’ opening, the minor, inverted ‘Frère Jacques’ funeral tune and the klezmer music sound natural. Others make it sound like film music.

The opening movement is magnificent in its pacing and dramatic flair, with an especially good coda. The famous Ländler is rustic but not peasant-like, which is the way it should. Too many conductors let loose and any elegance is lost. The funereal slow movement (Frère Jacques) highlights the fabulous recording quality — the klezmer oboes and clarinets with subtle cymbals sound incredibly good. And the final, ‘kitchen sink’ movement is as bombastic and fun as ever. 

So, a fine execution of a very popular symphony. Fans of the work can purchase with confidence, especially if you want to hear inner details and a more reflective version than many.  Fischer and his Salt Lake City gang are not going to erase memories of Berlin, Vienna or the Concertgebouw, but I dare say that those incredible orchestras never had a recording as fine as this. 

Audiophiles, this is another stunner from Reference Recordings. This one is not from Reference's fabled engineer, Prof. Keith Johnson, but the team at sound/mirror. I checked the cover only after a few listens and was very surprised it wasn't one of Johnson’s. Yes, it’s that good. 

FR-715SACD - MAHLER - Thierry Fischer / Utah Symphony Orchestra - HYBRID SURROUND SOUND SACD [52:55]