Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 4 in G major*
Franz SCHREKER (1878-1934)

Prelude to a Drama
Christine Whittlesey (soprano)*
SWR Sinfonieorchester/Michael Gielen
Rec 23-26 February 1988 (Mahler), Stadthalle Karlsruhe,
7 February 1995, Hans Rosbaud Studio Baden-Baden (Schreker)


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Mahler's Fourth is a strange symphony, inspired by the possibilities of a song deriving from a traditional folk poem, about the journey of a child's soul to Heaven. Not only does the song provide the germination from which the symphony derives, in its totality it is the finale of the symphony.

Of all Mahler's symphonies this one probably makes the best introduction for the newcomer to his uniquely compelling musical experience. However, there are special demands upon the performers, above all from the subtleties of phrasing and rubato which abound in the first movement especially. Gielen proves himself equal to these challenges, and his orchestra follows him admirably, as do the engineers in achieving a spacious and atmospheric acoustic in which detail remains impressive.

As the music proceeds, so these positive impressions continue. The orchestra leader plays his second movement solo with aplomb, and the woodwind players add strongly characterised contributions in abundance. The string lines in the beautiful slow movement could hardly be more eloquent. The great climax which Mahler described as 'the Opening of the Gates of Heaven' makes a powerful impression, as the timpani pound out the movement's motto rhythm.

Then comes the finale, the lightest movement, naïve in its charm, a solo song. However, while Christine Whittlesey acquits herself well in her upper range, lower done her tone is less than secure and her vibrato is too full to sound comfortable in music whose naïve charm is its very essence. Not for the first time, a recorded performance of Mahler's Fourth falls at the hurdle of the finale. The performance of this movement requires some tolerance, and while there is no doubting the artistry and talent of those involved in a competitive market-place better options are available. For example, try Lucia Popp with the LPO and Klaus Tennstedt (EMI).

Hänssler's nicely produced package does include a bonus, in the form of Franz Schreker's tone poem Overture to a Drama. This makes an interesting additional item, well played and beautifully recorded, even more than the Mahler, in fact. The famous musicologist and commentator Theodor Adorno once commented that 'the Prelude to Schreker's opera Die Gezeichneten (The Marked Ones) is the quintessence of his entire output'. If that is so, then this recorded performance of this twenty-minute long piece serves the composer's cause well, and is as fine a Schreker performance as the current catalogue contains. The committed playing and the richly atmospheric recording play a full part in allowing the music to make a strong impression.

Terry Barfoot

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