Notes and Editorial Reviews
Another great Mahler Fourth--talk about being spoiled for choice! This is in some ways a heavily inflected performance, but only where Mahler offers the opportunity. At other times it sticks to the letter of the score in a most illuminating fashion. The very opening sleigh bell episode, for example, is swift and bright, at least compared to many other performances. Mahler marks it "moderato" and "don't rush" (which conductor Manfred Honeck doesn't), but then we realize the ensuing principal tempo is marked "very relaxed", and Honeck's choices begin to make sense. Finally, when the same sleigh bell motive returns in the finale, accompanied by one of Mahler's famous
footnotes ("Here the tempo must become quicker, as at the corresponding place in the first movement"), we can actually hear in Honeck's hands the fulfillment of Mahler's grand cyclical plan.
Their are other controversial moments as well. The Adagio's principal theme is taken very slowly, the more to highlight the movement's wide range of tempos. The group of abruptly accelerating variations never has sounded so unbuttoned and gleeful, while the hypnotic music at the close has a stillness and shimmering beauty that's truly unforgettable. In general, Honeck goes for maximum tempo contrast wherever possible (the first movement's third subject group), but never to the point of mannerism. His control over the orchestra is absolute.
Speaking of which, there is probably no orchestra in the world better suited to this music than Pittsburgh--including Vienna, Berlin, and all the usual suspects. Always a superb ensemble in German music (consider PentaTone's recent Brahms cycle), and always underrated, the orchestra here shows playing that truly is in a class of its own. The horns are simply amazing; the solo winds give life and color to every bar that features them, turning the scherzo into just the half-folksy, half-spooky tone poem that Mahler intended; the strings sustain the slow tempos in the Adagio with unrivaled intensity.
Previn's recording of this work for EMI has long been a reference version, one of those "sleeper" performances overlooked in most surveys of the piece, but the quality of the orchestra over time is there for comparison and speaks for itself. Soprano Sunhae Im has a couple of moments of odd pronunciation, but an ideal timbre, and she catches the childlike innocence that Mahler intended just about perfectly. Exton's sonics are state of the art, both in normal and SACD stereo. I know, you probably already have 10 or 12 favorite recordings of this symphony, but this will certainly be another.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 4 in G major by Gustav Mahler
Sunhae Im (),
Sunhae Im (Soprano)
Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1892-1900; Vienna, Austria
Venue: Live Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh
Length: 57 Minutes 1 Secs.
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