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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 3 (1895) [98:07]
Symphony No. 4 (1892, rev. 1910) [60:33]
Genia Kühmeier (soprano) (4), Waltraud Meier (mezzo) (3)
Limberger Domsingknaben, MDR Rundfunkchor, Leipzig (3)
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Järvi
rec. live, Kloster Eberbach, Eltville im Rheingau, Germany, 23-24 June 2007 (3), 28-29 June 2008 (4)
Bonus: Introductions to both symphonies by Paavo Järvi [17:41]
Subtitles: German, English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese:
Subtitles for bonus: English, German, Korean, Japanese
Video: 1080i 16:9; Sound: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and LPCM Stereo
The review is of the DTS-HD surround.
C MAJOR Blu-ray 719204 [165:00]

As with the previous issue, of Symphonies 1 and 2 (review), these are performances of the very highest standard both in terms of musical insight and actual performing standards. Once again the video and audio presentation is decent but not of the finest.

Let me get the technical niggles out of the way first. The sound is rather compressed such that Mahler's huge climaxes, especially in No.3, do not expand in the way they should. On the other hand all the details are audible and the frequency range is fairly wide. The picture quality is consistent. Both recordings were made in the same venue, Kloster Eberbach, and are good in close-up but rather less good in long shots. Neither compare well to the Abbado/Lucerne Blu-ray discs. The menu system is the usual lash-up whereby the 'titles' — the individual symphonies — are only accessible after starting the whole programme. Who is likely to sit down and view Mahler 3 and 4 in one sitting? Once started one can use the pop-up menu to select each work or movements within them. Also available is the selection of stereo or surround and the subtitle languages for the vocal parts. All this should be at the top level and no music should be playing until one starts a symphony: here No.3 is used as musical wallpaper. A Mahlerian insult.

Now the good things. These are performances of real stature. Järvi has an individual take on Mahler performance. He takes slow music much slower and despite the fast music being faster than usual his overall timings for both works are longer than most. Taking No.3 as an example: Abbado takes a little longer over the outer movements but Järvi is noticeably slower over the second, third and fourth movements. It is here that his willingness to spend more time over Mahler's slower and more thoughtful moments yields the greatest benefits. He draws the listener's attention to just how beautiful much of this music is. He allows us to stop and admire the scenery as it were. This is helped by the lovely wind playing in the marvellous Frankfurt orchestra: particular mention must be given to the first flute Clara Andrada de la Calle, the first clarinet Jochen Tschabrun and the first trombone Oliver Siefert who are simply wonderful players. Järvi presides over all this with the expression of a man who knows he has the best job in the world. The FRSO have a long history of superb Mahler performances under Eliahu Inbal whose cycle, recorded by Denon mostly in the 1980s, has always been much admired (review). Järvi is carrying the tradition into the 21st century. The mezzo Waltraud Meier is as perfect as usual in 'O Mensch' and the two choirs sing with precision and enthusiasm.

The Fourth Symphony is not usually labelled as an epic. Here the scale seems greater with the conductor taking over an hour on a work often played in less than 55 minutes. The same characteristics are heard: a willingness to indulge the moment and allow Mahler's lovely orchestral details to make their full impact. Soprano Genia Kühmeier makes a beautiful sound and looks so radiantly happy that one can quite believe Mahler's view that Das himmlische Leben was one of the best of the Wunderhorn songs and indeed the 'tapering apex' of the work.

Dave Billinge



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