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Mahler: Symphony no 4, Ruckert Lieder, Das Lied von der Erde / Karajan, Giulini


Release Date: 02/25/2010 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 469304  
Composer:  Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Edith MathisChrista LudwigBrigitte FassbaenderFrancisco Araiza
Conductor:  Herbert von KarajanCarlo Maria Giulini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Unaccountably, I hadn't previously heard this Karajan performance of Mahler's Fourth even though it's been available on LP since 1979. Now it comes as the seventh CD version of this symphony, and it has bowled me over. Such playing (though if I'm to be hyper-critical I don't care for some of the solo-violin playing), such excellent recording balance and, above all, such conducting, Karajan at his most relaxed and winning, making all the humorous and fantastic points in the score with such affection. Such moments, too, as the coda of the slow movement leave one openmouthed at the sheer beauty of execution and interpretation. Edith Mathis enters perfectly into the spirit of the music and the performance. Yet any of the recordings I have Read more listed above has comparable virtues: Kathleen Battle's singing of the finale with Maazel (CBS) is a delight which we are privileged to be able to recall at the turn of a switch and both Haitink (Philips) and Tennstedt (EMI) penetrate to the heart of this adorable work as unerringly as does Karajan. For a warm CD sound, I think the Karajan has it.

-- M.K., Gramophone [3/1986, reviewing the Fourth Symphony, DG 415323]

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The five Rückert Lieder are common to all three discs; each recording, however, presents the songs in a different order. Of course this is not a song-cycle, but as the five are nearly always performed together, their relationship has to be considered. Von Stade and Horne both begin with "Ich atmet' einen linden Duft!", which means that that song is not available in the middle to come, as it can, with the delicious effect of a window opened to let in air, light and fragrance. The great problem is what to do with "Um Mitternacht". Following it with "Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder!" (Von Stade/Davis) breaks the mood too abruptly and risks the overshadowing of what is perhaps the most charming and light-hearted of the songs. To follow it with "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" (Horne/Mehta) is to balance the five in a clumsy fashion, putting the two longest and most profound songs together at the end which thus becomes overweighted. Far better is the Ludwig/Karajan solution, to end with "Um Mitternacht" and begin with "Ich bin der Welt", for although that song tells of the poet's separation from the world and therefore seems a more logical conclusion, it is the one which best sets the mood and which makes the most beautiful opening to the sequence. Then in the Ludwig/ Karajan comes "Liebst du", lightening with "Blicke mir", moving to the idyllic "Ich atmet' einen linden Duft!", and ending with "Um Mitternacht" which, with its solemnity and broad powerful climax, is the most difficult to follow. The record gains greatly from this ordering of the songs; but, as I said, it is also distinguished by fine playing. This is the recording which most beautifully captures the stillness and privacy of the songs. The solo instruments interleave against a still background, oboe, horn, flute each raising its voice in turn with the utmost beauty of sound and feeling for the shape of the phrase. Mehta's accompaniments are less fastidious in detail, and Andrew Davis's (though often beautifully played and imaginatively conducted, as at the beginning of "Blicke mir") suffer from a rather close-to recording which reduces that sense of stillness and space which is such a lovely feature of the Karajan.

-- Gramophone [11/1979, reviewing the Rückert Lieder on LP, DG 2531147]

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The impact of the most resplendent moments, most of the first song, and the entrance of the youths in the fifth, is matched by the stark truthfulness of the more exposed and searing sections, chief of them the orchestral interlude in "Der Abschied". These, and many other felicities, tell us that the BP0 have responded willingly to its first encounter on record with Giulini. Whatever incidental criticisms of his interpretation I may have, I found an innate truthfulness in his response to the anguish and intimations of mortality in the work. These surface most tellingly in -Der Abschied". Where both Haitink (Philips) and Davis seem a little overawed by this music and slow down unconscionably before its searing utterances, Giulini never allows the tension to abate. Finding the music's weight without recourse to exaggerations, he matches Klemperer in honesty and strength. And here, too, Brigitte Fassbaender achieves her greatest eloquence. Alec Robertson commented long ago in these pages that "Mir war auf dieser Welt das Gliick nicht hold!" was perhaps the most important line in the whole work, and Fassbaender, as much as Ludwig (Klemperer), and Ferrier (Walter), perhaps more than Baker (Haitink), certainly more than Norman (Davis), sings it with the marking "ausdrucksvoll" most present in her mind. But everything she does in this song is memorable—the sense of longing at "Alle Sehnsucht will nun traumen", the firm resolution of the questions after the orchestral break, the resignation (not too slow as with Davis) of "Ich suche Ruhe".

Matching this performance is that of the fifth song, "Der Trunkene in to which both Araiza and Giulini bring the right fevered exultation. Earlier the tenor is a mite disappointing, too anonymous with his words, too monochrome in tone for the opening song (so difficult!), where Wunderlich (Klemperer) has set an almost unapproachable standard, not delicate enough for the Chinese pavilion and porcelain of the third song, where Patzak's tangy lightness (Walter) has yet to be matched. Giulini finds the right flow to "Der Einsame im Herbst", with Lothar Koch's oboe providing a flowing, well-characterized beginning, and Fassbaender the emotional tug of the key phrase "gib mir Ruh", but hereabouts an incipient wobble around the break, conquered by the finale, is worrying, as it is in "Von der Schönheir, but she and Giulini make the entry of the youths as vivid as anyone, Fassbaender's almost hoydenish touch here quite appropriate, while the potentially dangerous return to Tempo I is nicely judged.

...As I have implied, there is room for so many readings of this masterpiece. I am certain this is one I shall return to for its integrity and immediacy on as many occasions as I have enjoyed Klemperer and Walter in the past: it is on that level of understanding, especially in "Der Abschied", quite unforgettable.

-- Gramophone [10/1984, reviewing Das Lied von der Erde]
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Works on This Recording

1. Symphony no 4 in G major by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Edith Mathis (Soprano)
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1892-1900; Vienna, Austria 
2. Rückert Lieder (5) by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Christa Ludwig (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Herbert von Karajan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1901-1902; Vienna, Austria 
3. Das Lied von der Erde by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Brigitte Fassbaender (Mezzo Soprano), Francisco Araiza (Tenor)
Conductor:  Carlo Maria Giulini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1908-1909; Vienna, Austria 

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