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Gustav MAHLER (1864-1911)
Symphony No.4 in G major (1899-1901)
Genia Kühmeier (soprano)
Münchner Philharmoniker/Valery Gergiev
rec. live, 21-23 & 28 March 2017, Philharmonie im Gasteig, Munich.

This appears to be a composite recording derived from three concerts, possibly, as is usually the case today with live recordings, some material from rehearsals and maybe even additional patching sessions. In any case, the result is in beautifully balanced sound with nary a hint of audience noise – indeed the conductor is the only mild offender in that regard.

Beauty is the watchword for this most relaxed and sumptuously played account. A recent “Gramophone” review condemned it as anodyne, correct and characterless; certainly, it is in a lighter vein, untroubled by the undercurrent of angst apparent in weightier recordings from such as Horenstein, Abbado, Tennstedt and Maazel; this is decidedly a conception couched in a lighter vein, similar to the famous Szell recording and – surprisingly – Solti’s version with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Personally, I find it delightful and wholly consistent with my own perception of this as Mahler’s most celebratory and insouciant symphony. That does not preclude other interpretations, nor does Gergiev gloss over the darker moments by translating the music into an interrupted bucolic romp.

The first movement is larded with plenty of portamento and rubato, oozing Schwung – not bad for Russian conductor - and in no sense do I hear Gergiev’s application of a Viennese lilt as exterior or applied, The Münchner Philharmoniker maintains a gentle, mellow tone while Gergiev subtly and delicately builds torque without any overt theatricality, even if the woodwinds and horns seem too prominent in the sonic landscape. The close is ethereal. The Scherzo is still intermittently faintly eerie and disturbing, as it should be, but we never approach the neurosis and psychosis conjured up by Manfred Honeck in his recent challenging recording. The sweetness of the violins’ sustained D over the double basses’ pizzicato two and a half minutes into the third movement is ineffable and the conclusion achieves a transcendent serenity. The fourth movement is similarly sunny. Soprano soloist Genia Kühmeier is suitably pure and unaffected, avoiding archness; she must especially be commended for the way in which she enacts the text of her strange, faux-naif song Das himmlische Leben, but she is vocally no match for the likes of Kathleen Battle, Margaret Price, Lucia Popp or Kiri Te Kanawa.

Gergiev carries through his thoroughly consistent, coherent vision of this symphony, abetted by simply exquisite orchestral playing of the greatest delicacy and virtuosity. It’s certainly not the only way to deliver it but I find it wholly satisfying on its own terms.

Ralph Moore

Previous review: Michael Cookson (Recording of the Month)



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