This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
MAHLER Symphony No. 4 • Valery Gergiev, cond; Laura Claycomb (sop); London SO • LSO LIVE LSO0662 (SACD: 54:48) Live: London 1/11-12/2008
The Valery Gergiev/LSO Mahler Symphony series has been on hiatus, at least on disc; this recording was made in the same month as the First Symphony,Read more released a couple of years ago. For me, it has been an uneven series at best, with only the Seventh a clear winner.
The reviewer for the Daily Telegraph (quoted on the LSO Web site) gave this description of Gergiev’s performance of the Fourth, from which this recording was derived:
Those who think of Mahler’s Fourth as the gentlest of his symphonies would have found their ideas challenged by Valery Gergiev’s probing interpretation of it. Far from being a sunny, carefree idyll, this was something more prone to anxiety and tension than to tranquil nostalgia.
It is an indication of just how personal Mahler’s music can be—and just how distinctive one’s perception can be—that I found it hard to believe that I was listening to the same interpretation described above.
The opening is deliberate and uniform, with no contrast between the violin and bell rhythms; it’s a little on the dreamy side, and Gergiev takes some time to find a more progressive tempo. Overall, though, there is little that is particularly eccentric or unusual about this movement: the LSO plays superbly (hardly surprising) and Gergiev sticks to the basics, exploiting the contrast between the deliberate naiveté of the opening measures and the sophisticated development of Mahler’s themes; his use of tempo to inject a sense of impetuosity is all to the good.
A very whiney (and effective) solo violin in the second movement is set against a delicate fabric of mincing strings and winds. Transparent sound aids in the clarity of the inner voices. The droll trio in Ländler rhythm is very comfortable and dipped in Viennese chocolate, altogether a delight (dare I call it nostalgic?). A strong sense of forward motion (poco adagio, with emphasis on the poco) propels the slow movement, but the rich LSO strings elicit Mahler’s marking of ruhevoll (peaceful or serene). The sense of anxiety referred to in the Telegraph review is wholly appropriate here, as the sky darkens with Mahler’s counter-theme in the minor mode. Gergiev is once again simply (simply!) following the score and Mahler’s intentions.
The contrasting emotions continue to alternate in typical Mahlerian schizophrenia until we approach the Big Moment: Gergiev doesn’t draw out the anticipation, and we are soon transported through the Gates with triumphant timpani pounding away. The lovely coda is lingered over, and the strings are impressively gauzy. Clarinet and strings steal in to the finale; Gergiev’s tempo here is quite comfortable, affording Laura Claycomb the breathing room to luxuriate in the description of heavenly delights. Claycomb, soloist for the Michael Tilson Thomas/San Francisco Symphony Orchestra recording, is animated and accurate, with a characterization that is sometimes suitably awestruck but never arch.
Far from being an iconoclastic retooling of Mahler’s most popular symphony, Gergiev’s is a surprisingly idiomatic and expertly performed version. Among SACDs, it is more intimately scaled than either MTT or Zinman (and, to my mind, more successful), and less purely individualist than Fischer (Channel Classics), whose performance comes closer than Gergiev’s to the description quoted at the beginning of this review. It is a pleasure to give this new LSO Live disc my highest recommendation.