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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 4 in G major (1899-1900)
Hanna-Elisabeth Müller (soprano)
Düsseldorfer Symphoniker/Ádám Fischer
rec. live, 17-21 November 2016, Tonhalle Düsseldorf
Reviewed as a 24/48 download from eClassical
Pdf booklet does not include sung texts
C-AVI 8553642 [56:48]

It’s Ádám Fischer’s younger brother, Iván, who shines new light on the Fourth, one of Mahler’s loveliest creations. First up was his 2008 recording with the Budapest Festival Orchestra (Channel Classics), followed two years later by an equally illuminating performance with the Concertgebouw as part of the Mahler anniversaries in 2010/11 (RCO Live). Both have a life-renewing radiance and lightness of touch that’s most refreshing. Not only that, Iván’s chosen soprano, Miah Persson, is a seasoned Mahlerian whose blend of art and artlessness seems well-nigh perfect.

There are a number of classic Mahler Fourths; of those, Otto Klemperer’s with the Philharmonia and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf – included in a superbly remastered EMI-Warner box – sounds as fresh as the day it was made. George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra’s CBS-Sony one is still much revered, but even a high-res HDTT transfer can’t tame the rather fierce 1960s sound. Of more recent recordings I’ve much admired David Zinman’s Zurich Tonhalle Fourth (RCA-BMG) and Claudio Abbado’s Lucerne video (Euroarts). In such distinguished company, Markus Stenz (Oehms) and Marc Albrecht (Pentatone) would have to be very special in order to compete; for me, they’re not even in the proverbial ball-park.

As for Ádám Fischer, I know the name but I can’t recall hearing any of his output. Probably his biggest achievement to date is the 33-CD box of the complete Haydn symphonies with the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra, of which he is both the founder and music director. The Brilliant Classics reissue of that Nimbus set was certainly well received on these pages. In his capacity as chief conductor of the Düsseldorfer Symphoniker, Fischer has now embarked on a complete Mahler cycle for C-Avi. I plan to review the first in the series, No. 7, before long.

Back to No. 4, and just how do Fischer and his German band fare? Well, the opening movement is light of tread and texture – fine pizzicato playing here – but some passages are a tad untidy. That’s to be expected in a live recording, although I’m surprised they weren’t ‘patched’ later. Then again, a few imperfections matter less when the performance is as engaging as this. Climaxes are nicely proportioned, the orchestra acquit themselves well, and the clean, very detailed sound – with a surprisingly robust bass drum – is just fine. I was a bit cool about this reading at the outset, but such are its incidental delights that I soon thawed.

The wie ein Fiedel violin solo in the scherzo is attractively done, although one could argue that Fischer takes the score’s ohne Hast a bit too literally at times. And then there’s the occasional – but very noticeable – ‘reining in’ of the orchestra that’s slightly off-putting. Happily, he makes amends with a glowing account of the third movement that finds the strings and woodwinds hushed and suitably intense. Most important, that long Mahlerian line is left pretty much intact, and there’s no sense of empty rhetoric when the tuttis arrive. I was also pleased to hear the timpanist’s hard sticks used to such thrilling and emphatic effect in that crowing climax.

The child-heaven finale is a hard one to pull off. Not only does it demand the right voice, it also requires a fine ear for colour, nuance and rhythm. The German soprano Hanna-Elisabeth Müller, whose operatic roles include Gretel and Zerlina, is certainly child-like here; hers is not a big voice – she’s a bit far back as well – but it’s seamless and secure. Yes, Schwarzkopf and Persson are more characterful and their diction is better, but Müller is pleasing nonetheless. As for the playing, it’s light and luminous, and even though Fischer is a little deliberate towards the end the overall effect is convincing enough. There’s no applause.

Not a giant-killer, but not a pygmy either; a most enjoyable Mahler Fourth.

Dan Morgan



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