Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 4
James Levine, cond; Judith Blegen (sop); Chicago SO
RCA 59413 (57:58)
Gustav Mahler’s symphonies can work with so many different approaches (unlike the symphonies of most composers) that to pick any one recording of any of the symphonies and call it a “classic” is inviting argument and trouble, yet this specific recording of this particular symphony certainly qualifies in my book. Made in 1976, it has withstood not only the challenges of virtually every recording that came after it but
has superceded most of its predecessors.
It took me several decades to realize that James Levine took his inspiration for this performance from the very odd recording of this symphony by Willem Mengelberg and the Concertgebouw Orchestra. Mengelberg slows down certain passages, especially in the first movement, so much that the motor rhythm practically stops, and this has been heavily criticized over the years, but he also imbued the music with an almost demonic intensity that took it away from the placid overview of the symphony as “a child’s view of heaven” and placed it into another realm. Levine borrowed the intense aspects of Mengelberg’s vision, but played the symphony in tempos much closer to those prescribed by Mahler, with the result being this classic of the phonograph.
Judith Blegen, though a fine and very musical soprano, does not have the finest voice for this music (that honor goes to Kathleen Battle, in her CBS recording with Lorin Maazel), yet she is quite good, and the overall impact of this recording is such that all subsequent interpretations are compared to it. That, in itself, qualifies this recording as Hall of Fame material.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
A lot of Mahler 4s have come and gone since this 1974 release, but its musical values remain undiminished. It finds both James Levine and the Chicago Symphony at the absolute peak of their form, and that's really saying something. This performance has everything: incredible precision in the first movement (especially the central development section), a nicely spiky scherzo, a broadly sung and soulful adagio rising to a glorious climax, and a terrific soloist for the finale in the person of Judith Blegen. There's really not much more that needs to be said, other than that the current remastering sounds extremely vivid and close up, even a touch bright, but perfectly acceptable. A generation of Mahler lovers imprinted on this performance, and it's great that a new legion of fans will now be able to do the same--and at mid-price too.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 4 in G major by Gustav Mahler
Judith Blegen (Soprano)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1892-1900; Vienna, Austria
In gemächlicher Bewegung; ohne Hast
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