Andrew Farach-Colton, Barnes & Noble
Perhaps the most striking feature of this Mahler Fourth is its lack of pretension. In fact, Benjamin Zander's interpretation is so fresh and unaffected that it wouldn't be at all far-fetched if Telarc had slapped a "100% Natural" sticker on the cover. The music's many characters are finely drawn, and the big dramatic moments are given their due, as one would expect from a Mahlerian of Zander's caliber, yet nothing is overdone. And that approach is very welcome in this, the sweetest and sunniest of all Mahler's symphonies. The first movement, with its thematic abundance, is held together marvelously well. Zander's deft handling of the tempo changes gives one the feeling that each new melody is a new discovery, and that all the melodies are somehow related. Philharmonia Orchestra principal violinist Christopher Warren-Green deserves mention for evoking a convincingly rustic-sounding fiddle in the scherzo. But the symphony's heart is its expansive Adagio, played here in a beautifully flowing manner --the radiant final climax sounding truly like the opening the celestial gates, as Mahler intended. In the songlike finale, soprano Camilla Trilling is suitably boyish, projecting an innocent, wide-eyed amazement at the heavenly life she describes. As in Zander's previous recordings of Mahler's Fifth and Ninth, this one includes a free bonus disc, in which the conductor discusses the music and its interpretation with infectious enthusiasm. Even if you have other recordings of this symphony, Zander's insightful commentary alone is worth the outlay. As it happens, you get a first-class performance of the symphony as part of the bargain.