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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 4 in G major (1900) [58:44]
Rckert-Lieder (1901-1902) [20:40]
Magdalena Koen (mezzo)
Lucerne Festival Orchestra/Claudio Abbado
rec. 21-22 August 2009, Lucerne Festival, Lucerne, Switzerland
Director: Michael Beyer
Picture format: 16:9/NTSC
Sound: PCM stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Region: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: English, French, German
No text or translation included
EUROARTS 2057988 [79:24]

Experience Classicsonline



Claudio Abbados Lucerne Mahler performances have become a legend in their own lifetime. Rightly so, as the conductor and his hand-picked orchestra are probably the most accomplished musical partnership on the planet. The cycle is not yet complete and already Euroarts has released a box set of Symphonies 1-7 on Blu-ray. The latter has the benefit of high-definition visuals and sound, but the cheaper DVDs are of the highest quality too. The camerawork in this series is a model of its kind - discreet and unfussy - and the lack of bonus tracks is a plus as far as Im concerned. The recent reissue of the Mahler 5 with an introductory video review is a case in point; such add-ons rarely add much value.

The disc starts with the Rckert-Lieder, sung by the white-gowned mezzo Magdalena Koen. Hers is a light voice, pure of line and capable of some lovely floated notes. In Liebst du um Schnheit she adopts a slightly hectoring style, complete with widened eyes, thats a tad distracting. Predictably, though, the Lucerners sound splendid in this most luminous of scores; as for maestro Abbado, his gestures are as economical as ever. The burbling start to Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder is nicely done, but Koens pale tones some might call them colourless are clearly an acquired taste. In Um Mitternacht, especially, one longs for the subtle shading of Baker or Ludwig; that said, Koen sounds more sheerly beautiful than either.

And thats my only quibble; theres a heightened sensitivity in Mahlers score, where even the smallest change of colour or dynamic is freighted with intent, and that surely requires an equally subtle and nuanced vocalist. That said, Koens Ich atmet einen linden Duft has a limpid beauty that, like Rckerts scent of love, is impossible to resist. As for Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen its the orchestra that catches ones ear, this fragile music appearing to tremble on the very edge of extinction. Here its indescribably beautiful, a deep spell thats only broken after a long, appreciative silence. What a relief, no oiks screeching bravo on the last note.

Before we launch into the Fourth Symphony, I must confess to some trepidation. Theres no doubt Abbados Lucerne Mahler is as good as its ever likely to get, but there have been times when Ive wondered whether this maestros own battle with mortality overloads the music. The Fifth and later symphonies can take that extra weight, but Im not sure the earlier, so-called Wunderhorn ones, can do the same. The Fourth certainly benefits from a lightness of touch, its aerated textures especially suited to a virtuoso band such as this. Indeed, the hear-through sound of the Rckert -Lieder bodes well for what follows.

And so it proves, the opening of the first movement as sun-flecked and easygoing as one could wish for. Its all played pretty straight, without that self-indulgent swoop and swoon that so easily disrupts the Mahlerian line. Theres also an almost forensic quality to the sound that trumps most CDs of this work, so I can only wonder at the improvement high-res Blu-rays claim to offer. In PCM stereo at least the soundstage is both deep and broad, timps crisp and authoritative, massed strings bright without ever being steely.

Abbado isnt inclined to dawdle, the end of this movement sounding as clear-eyed and emphatic as ever. The wie an Fiedel of the Totentanz movement may not be as unsettling as some, but its still superbly done, plucked strings like the video picture pin-sharp throughout. Indeed, Abbados no-nonsense reading reminds me of Klaus Tennstedts BBC Legends Mahler First, which also benefits enormously from a taut, unsentimental approach (review). Shorn of excess, Mahlers chamber-like scoring is laid bare in the most natural and convincing way, so much so that one seems to be hearing these familiar scores as if for the first time. Just sample that nodal point at 46:55, where the music broadens naturally, without recourse to unnecessary pauses or exaggerated phrasing.

But its the adagio that s most captivating, the Lucerners infusing this music with a penetrating warmth; its a remarkable sleight of hand, for rhythms are neither sluggish nor the mood dewy-eyed. Its a seamless performance, the tiniest of details heard as never before; the music-making is little short of superhuman, but it certainly isnt short of emotional intensity, the final peroration and postlude if one can all it that as magnificent as Ive ever heard them. And just when Ive run out of superlatives theres the child-heaven finale, with Koen in silvery voice. Shes always clear and crisp, which dovetails nicely with Abbados brightly-lit uplands; but, and its a very small but, I did find this movement a little lacking in charm.

I cannot end on a caveat; this is an impressive disc, a high water mark in the history of Mahler recordings in general and this symphony in particular. Refreshing, renewing, remarkable a must-have for all Mahlerians.

Dan Morgan

Masterwork Index: Rückert-Lieder  Symphony 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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