Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

Symphony No.4 in G Major
Eva Johansson (Soprano)
Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Leif Segerstam
Chandos CHAN 9836 [61:42]


In Mahler's Fourth Symphony there is no great wrestling with questions of existence as there is in the previous two. Hardly any concern either with conflict and resolution as in the succeeding three. The Fourth is often seen as Mahler's least troubled symphony. Since it's also his shortest and the one with the prettiest, most tuneful textures, it's also his most popular and approachable. However be careful about viewing it as entirely untroubled. There are dark shades on these textures and a delicate interplay of emotion and for the conductor this all means a careful balancing act. Accentuate those dark elements, pile the work with too much emotional drag and the fairy tale nature is lost. Play down the shadows, take too far a step back and the bogeymen peeping out from behind the drapes disappear from view. Segerstam tends towards the former category and this is in keeping with his approach to Mahler generally which always tends to the dramatic, the romantic and, in some cases, the mannered. Maybe it's the special nature of the Fourth but not even Segerstam, some of whose Mahlerian excesses I have found unacceptable, can spoil the work and prevent him delivering a recording with much appeal, though it could not be called "mainstream" like those by Kletzki, Szell, Horenstein or Kubelik are. Segerstam falls more into the kind of subjective interpretation represented by Mengelberg or Barbirolli but with the extra advantage of superb playing and recording, even though the latter may strike some as being too large-scale to suit what is a more intimate work.

The slow third movement is best representative of the kind of interpretation Segerstam seems to be offering. The approach is deeply expressive and the effect deeply tragic: worlds away from the Schubert-like poise of Boulez on DG or the ice- crystal purity of Reiner on RCA, for example. In fact I think Segerstam looks to what would for Mahler be more recent times as he puts me in mind of the hot house atmosphere of Wagner's Wesendonk Lieder with its dark colours and long, sensuous lines. Never was Beecham's remark about this work of Mahler's as "the illigeitimate offspring of Tristan and Isolde" more apt.

We should have been alerted to the approach Segerstam would adopt in the third movement from his account of the second. His "hands-on" approach allows him to accentuate weirdness in the Trios that ought to have more parody about them. He probably takes this movement too much at face value where Mahler has something subtler in mind - a cartoon world of fairy tale fears in his portrayal of "Friend Death" striking up on his out-of-tune fiddle. Certainly this is culture shock after Horenstein and Kletzki, who all seem more in tune with Mahler's cheekiness and self-mocking. In the first movement Segerstam also invests every bar with special attention and this brings some nice touches, like the lower woodwind chuckling away in the Development. But some may find his close attention to detail here ultimately gets in the way of the broader flow. It only remains to report that Eva Johansson is a rather anonymous soprano in the last movement though Segerstam's accompaniment of her is exemplary.

An expressive, consciously moulded performance resonantly recorded and sonorously played. Some of Mahler's lightness of touch is sacrificed but Segerstam's involvement offers a persuasive alternative to more central views.


Tony Duggan



Reviews from previous months

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers : - The UK's Biggest Video Store

Concert and Show tickets


Musicians accessories

Click here to visit

Return to Index