Fisch triumphs in Mahler battle

Asher Fisch
The West Australian

To listen to Mahler’s Symphony No 1 is to be taken across vast vistas variously funereal, confrontational, introspective and insouciant.

This awesome opus requires massive orchestral forces able to cope with its demands – and a conductor confident and experienced enough to lead his instrumental troops triumphantly into musical battle. This, Asher Fisch did with banners flying.

Even at its most complex and demanding, Mahler’s symphonic complexities were revealed in a consistently logical way. There wasn’t a dull moment, with its myriad notes winging a wondrous way through the first movement – with whooping horns in top form.

WASO trumpeters, backstage for the opening moments of the symphony, brought a most pleasing spatial effect to the presentation. And the bucolic, danceable earthiness of the landler movement was impeccably evoked by Fisch and his forces.

Is there a more unsettling, a more disturbing, slow movement in the symphonic repertoire than here where Mahler transforms Frere Jacques, that delightful children’s nursery song, into a creepy funeral march. Here, conductor and orchestra evoked to the nth degree the chilling, depressive, foot-dragging essence of the movement.

In less than completely assured hands, Mahler’s one-hour-long First Symphony can sound endless. But there was no hint of that on Friday. Asch’s tempi sounded entirely right. And both expanded woodwind and brass sections gave point and meaning to every note they essayed.