Best Mahler 4th?, September 10, 2001
Reviewer: George C. John from Houston, TX United States
This is without a doubt the most fascinating and moving performance of the Mahler 4th that I have ever heard. The sound is as good as I have heard using 16-bit encoding. The commentary disk is excellent. Conductor Benjamin Zander seems to have a deep appreciation for this music.
Special mention must go to soprano Camilla Tilling who gives the absolute best reading of the 4th movement I have ever heard both interpretively and for the sheer beauty of her voice. Another special mention should go to the string section of the Philharmonia. The ensemble playing is at times as good as it gets. I can't see how the first four to five minutes of the 3rd movement could be performed any better.
The Heavenly Delight of Zander's Mahler,
December 27, 2001
Reviewer: Thomas F. Bertonneau from Mt. Pleasant, MI USA
This is about Benjamin Zander's new recording of Mahler's Fourth Symphony on Telarc but there are some preliminaries to put it in context. Critics tend to dismiss as uncommitted or lacking in excitement the interpretation of the Mahler Fourth by means of which I first grew familiar with the piece - Bernard Haitink's, with the Concertgebouw Orchestra, on a Philips LP from the late 1960s. (I bought the record in the summer of 1972 and vividly remember listening to it, via headphones, when I had returned home from work, as a store-clerk, around 1.30 in the morning; I had picked it up at a long-extinct record-store, in Westwood Village, on my way from college classes to work.) Possibly, in comparison with some others, Haitink's performance is not so mannered or daring as it might be, but it exhibits a delicacy of touch that still endears it to me. Ely Ameling provides the soprano voice in the Finale and her un-operatic delivery well suits the music. Next to the Seventh, the Fourth is the most otherworldly of the canonical nine, nocturnal, quirky, and haunted. It can withstand a sunny reading, like that given it influentially by Bruno Walter, but it benefits greatly by an infusion of the uncanny. Benjamin Zander understands this; his is one of the hand-full of recorded interpretations that satisfies me as much as the old Haitink interpretation on Philips. No doubt all conductors meticulously study the scores that they conduct. Zander, however, makes his cogitations evident in fascinating lectures that accompany his recorded performances; Telarc has made these spoken analyses of Mahler's scores available to listeners on bonus discs that come with each of the three symphonies (9, 5, and 4) so far issued in the series. As Zander reminds us, Mahler wrote Symphony No. 4 backwards, beginning with the fourth-movement setting of the "Wunderhorn" song "Das Himmlische Leben", originally intended as the seventh movement of the colossal Third Symphony. In his lecture, Zander examines the movements in reverse order, but I'll take them, as we hear them in performance, the right way round. There has been a good deal of discussion of the Fourth Symphony in recent years. The composer Berthold Goldschmidt told Simon Rattle that modern interpreters had got the opening tempi wrong, and that the error had itself become the tradition: the opening tempo should be slower than the subsequent tempo. (You can listen to the result of the reshuffling in Rattle's EMI recording.) Zander seems to have picked up on Goldschmidt's claim. Like the old Haitink interpretation, Zander's is one of gentleness, piqued here and there by the obtrusions of weirdness that are undoubtedly intrinsic to Mahler's score. The "Kleine Appell" - the trumpet-call, buried in a tutti, which foreshadows the Fifth Symphony - is understated; Zander reins in its foreshadowing portentousness. In the Second Movement, the "Freund Hein Scherzo", the first violin does an exceptionally fine job. It's Zander's notion that the solo part should sound as much like a village fiddle and as little like a fancy concert instrument as possible. Haitink's soloist stood out in the same way: an uncanny mixture of sweetness and creepiness. I like it. The long Third Movement sounds sumptuous indeed, and poignant, under Zander's leadership; it's one of the best version of this particular movement that I now. In Swedish soprano Camilla Tilling, Zander has found a superb singer for the Fourth Movement Finale. Tilling sings the part without the stage-voice that other sopranos (Schwarzkopf, for example, in her recorded performances with Walter and Klemperer) bring to it; she uses, instead, a "Liederstimmung" with an endearingly girlish quality. Zander's lecture by itself would be worth the tariff on this set: it really elucidates the inner-workings of this remarkable symphony. Strongly recommended.
A Mahler Fourth Worth Waiting For, January 16, 2002
Reviewer: David N. Loesch from Kenmore, WA United States
I discovered the Mahler Fourth back in the late sixties from the first Leonard Bernstein recording featuring an unmannered and appropriately simple solo performance by soprano Reri Grist who, in my opinion had just the right childlike sound. Bernstein's second Mahler series boasts the best recordings of the Third and the Seventh I have ever heard and a very fine reading of the Sixth. Lenny's Fourth in the second set, however, is seriously marred by the use of a boy soprano who sounds jarringly wrong and does not do justice to the music. The Boulez recording has some merit, a fine scherzo for example with a disturbingly agressive violin solo creating a chilly effect. However, the choice of tempo for the first movement opening leaves one wondering if Boulez knows what "deliberately, unhurried" means and the soprano in the final movement sings well, but has too mature a sound. The Zander recording, to my great delight, is as perfect an interpretation as I ever hope to hear. The performance is so transparent and so perfectly judged that every amazing detail of the score shines through. The recorded sound is ravishing, and the wonderful soprano in the finale displays marvelous technique and supplies just the right innocense of tone. Zander's hour long discussion of the work is as revealing as the performance itself. Finally, a recording that does justice to one of Mahler's most subtly perfect creations.
A Superlative 4th, February 4, 2002
Reviewer: James R. Niles from Dickinson, TX United States
It's much more difficult to write a laudatory review than a scathing one. In fact, if one is a performer, he/she may learn more from a bad example than a good one. Perhaps that's why some music schools have the obligatory weekly recital class, where one gets raked over the coals by his peers.
This, however, is the Mahler for people who hate Mahler. I can't think of one negative thing to say about it, and I have a whole shelf of this symphony. This one satisfied me. I did find the accompanying disk overlong and unnecessary. The symphony speaks for itself.