Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No.4 in G (1899-1900) [61:38]
Essi Luttinen (mezzo)
Turku Philharmonic Orchestra/Leif Segerstam
rec. Turku Concert Hall, Finland, 27-29 May 2019. DDD.
Text and translation of finale included
ALBA ABCD454 [61:38]
I’ve just finished my share of updating Tony Duggan’s very popular
Synoptic Survey of the Mahler symphonies.
That update includes a brief review of this new recording along with Tony Duggan’s choices
and some of the newer recordings of Symphony No.4 which have appeared since 2006.
As Tony Duggan left matters, his favourite versions were ‘Horenstein,
KubelŪk and Kletzki from the past generation, and Gatti, Boulez and Tilson
Thomas from the present’ with that of Michael Tilson Thomas ‘a truly great
version and certainly the best all round for performance and recorded sound
Some of those older recordings are now hard to come by; I’ve included
details in my update.
I’m surprised that Bruno Walter and George Szell, both recorded by CBS
didn’t make the final cut. The Szell, with Judith Raskin an ideal soloist,
is available only as a download, without booklet, and more expensive than
when it was available as a budget CD (Sony G0100013929977, with Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, Andew Davis, or Columbia
G010003872253J). The Sony costs around £12 in lossless sound – as much as
you would expect to pay for a new recording. The Columbia is less
expensive, around £8.50, but offers the symphony only. Some dealers still
have the Sony CD for around £10.
Ever since it appeared as one of the earliest CBS classics LPs at
mid-price, having been released at full price only two years earlier, I’ve
been a fan of Szell’s way with Mahler, not just in the Fourth, but in the
Sixth (Sony 88697008132 –
now download only) and Des Knaben Wunderhorn, with Schwarzkopf
and Fischer-Dieskau (Warner Original Jacket 9029573984, around £7.50 –
of earlier reissue).
Generally regarded as a martinet conductor, Szell nevertheless captures the
spirit of No.4; he’s well served by Judith Raskin in the finale and, of
course, his own Cleveland Orchestra offer model playing. There’s a
hi-definition version of Szell’s Fourth, but I can’t recommend it – the top
line sounds too shrill. The Sony CD, which is my benchmark for this
symphony, sounds much better.
My other benchmarks include Tilson Thomas – on that I very much concur
with Tony Duggan – who makes a very slow tempo for the third movement work well
where others fail to do so –
DL Roundup August 2010.
(SFS Media SFS0004).
Mahler asks for the third movement to be Ruhevoll (restful), poco adagio, which usually means an overall timing of around 23
minutes, sometimes as short as 21 minutes, for example from IvŠn Fischer with the Budapest Festival Orchestra (Channel
CCSSA26109, SACD). That’s one of the recordings which has appeared since
TD’s survey (in 2009). Leslie Wright thought it the version to beat
(Recording of the Month –
and I now regard it as my third benchmark; having originally disliked it,
as heard in mp3, listening to it again in better, 24-bit, sound I had a real change of
heart (DL Roundup November 2011/1). The moral is always to go for the best possible sound – from SACD where
available, or 24-bit download.
the recent Osmo Všnskš recording (BIS-2356 SACD, reviewed by me in 24-bit
eclassical.com), thought that it ranked with the very best. Despite my own low
expectations, he seems much more attuned to the world of this last of the Wunderhorn symphonies than to its successors. Tilson Thomas has
demonstrated that a very slow tempo works for the third movement and it
works well for Vanskš, too. All in all, I enjoyed the Všnskš Fourth – and,
incidentally, his Seventh – much more than I had expected, but the
Klimt-inspired cover is hardly appropriate for this symphony.
Leif Segerstam recorded some of the Mahler symphonies for Chandos quite a
while ago. His recording of the Fourth, on CHAN9836, earned a degree of
praise from Tony Duggan as a persuasive alternative to the mainstream views
of Kletzki, Szell, Horenstein and KubelŪk –
That recording remains available from
as a download (mp3 or lossless) or as a CDR to special order.
Segerstam’s view of the outer movements on the new Alba
recording remains largely unchanged, but he
now takes longer over the second movement and is faster in the third. I’ve
already said that in the first movement a sense of rubato is
all-important; get it right and it sounds natural, get it wrong and it’s
simply artificial. I initially thought that IvŠn Fischer made it sound
artificial, though I came to think otherwise, but I doubt that I shall warm
to Segerstam in the same way. It’s as if he wants to underline every
detail, to extract every ounce of drama. With the Turku Philharmonic
Orchestra serving him rather better than the Danish Radio Orchestra on
Chandos, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, though it impedes the flow of
the music. Tony Duggan’s three-word summary of the earlier Chandos
recording is largely applicable to the new release: dramatic, romantic
and often mannered.
At least, the third movement is not as slow as before, though the effect
remains deeply expressive – I find myself continually using Tony Duggan’s
words – and a call to rethink for all those who consider this the most
placid of Mahler’s symphonies.
Whatever has gone before, any recording of this symphony stands or falls
with the quality of the soloist in the finale. Too operatic and the fairy
tale atmosphere is lost; too little-girlish and it sounds as if the singer
is in heavy weather. Given that Emma Kirkby never recorded it, Judith
Raskin for Szell comes pretty close to the ideal. I’m aware that voice
quality is the most subjective thing about reviewing – having just heard
Dame Sarah Connolly in Das Lied von der Erde, I seem about to
become in a minority of one in not raving about that new Pentatone
recording – but Essi Luttinen also seems just right here.
The new Segerstam recording leaves me with a good feeling after this
account of the finale, and Alba have recorded his team in good quality.
There’s even a hi-res download from Qobuz, which I sampled as well as the
CD; it’s available for £11.99, which is less than you would pay for the CD,
and it comes with the booklet in pdf format. All in all, however, though
you wouldn’t go too far wrong with this new recording, there is better to
be had. Even after my lengthy excursion through the world of Mahler’s
Fourth, I find myself returning to Szell, Tilson Thomas and IvŠn Fischer,
with no sense of reviewer fatigue.