MAHLER: Symphony No.4
Lisa Della Casa (Soprano)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra Conducted by Fritz Reiner
RCA Victor 09026 63533
This recording of Mahler's Fourth dates from 1958 at which time RCA Victor
had perfected their "Living Stereo" sound to coincide with what was a golden
age at the Chicago Symphony with Fritz Reiner setting new standards of precision.
This new release supersedes all previous versions by using the latest 20
bit technology to gain as much as possible from the original masters and
the results are impressive. Comparing it with the previous CD issue there's
a clearly-marked gain in sharpness of detail, but it's a pity it now appears
at higher price and without a coupling. The previous cheaper issue boasted
Strauss's Burleske as a filler.
Mahlerians will know this performance well. Reiner exercises
characteristically strict control over the Chicago Symphony and even more
on the music. His emphasis is on clarity and there are certainly gains in
that you are aware, to a remarkable degree, of the texture of the piece as
you are too in the new Boulez recording which I also review this month. Unlike
the Boulez recording, however, in the Reiner there's a definite brittle quality
to music that must have at least a patina of warmth, otherwise it can be
wearing on repeated listening and this has always been my feeling with Reiner.
But it certainly has a place in the recorded pantheon of Fourths. What's
really missing is a sense of repose so important in the passages of nostalgic
reverie and fairy tale naivety Mahler beguiles us with. Reiner certainly
brings out the grotesques, though. He can also turn the central climax in
the first movement into one of transfiguring power. But there's less context
for the grotesques to breathe than we are used to with others. Less ability
for us to reflect on what they mean because we have so little with which
to compare them.
This is a very sharp ride, then. A cold journey through Mahler's fairy tale
landscapes, but one that should be experienced by those interested in how
the symphony ticks as well as in hearing a great conductor and orchestra
at the height of their powers with a much-loved soprano as guest. It should
also interest those with ears for recorded sound since it illustrates what
superb work was being done by the RCA Victor engineers over forty years ago.
In fact, hearing this so soon after the new Boulez recording, I was prompted
to wonder just how far the recording of music has moved since 1958.
See also Tony Duggan's comparative reviews
of the Mahler Symphonies