Mahler: Symphony No. 4 (CD review)

Also, Four Early Songs. Ruth Ziesak, soprano; Daniele Gatti, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. RCA 75605 51345 2.

Although by the time he wrote the Fourth Symphony Mahler had begun giving up trying to link descriptive titles to his music, he did leave us two designations for the Fourth, "The world as eternal present" for the first movement and "Friend Death--strike up" for the second. As the first movement begins with sleigh bells, it isn't hard to imagine programmatic content wherein we are journeying toward immortality. The second movement's Death may be seen as a welcoming character leading us to Heaven, the third movement as the final ascent, and the conclusion as our eternal resting place of sweetness and bliss.

Conductor Daniele Gatti continues his Mahler cycle, leading the Royal Philharmonic through the Fourth Symphony's trek with more fervor than one usually associates with this piece. Whether one responds to Maestro Gatti's more idiosyncratic-than-usual treatment of the score may depend on one's view of the symphony as a whole or, simply, what one has gotten used to in the past.

Daniele Gatti
Mahler is a composer of contrasts, to be sure, but in the Fourth the differences are less extreme than in the man's other symphonies. The Fourth is the most idyllic, the most pastoral, the most restful of his nine numbered symphonies. However, that isn't quite how Gatti sees it. Instead of a smooth and freely moving tempo and rubato as adopted by most conductors, Gatti chooses to indulge in a series of starts and stops, never quite adopting a steady pace. There are numerous hesitations, shortenings and elongations, and new tempo changes, devices that may work in the more spectacular of Mahler's symphonies but here tend to impede some of the sweetness of the work's forward progress. Still, Gatti's reading is his own, and for many listeners it may inject new life into an old favorite.

For purposes of comparison I had five other Mahler Fourths on hand at the time of this review: Bernard Haitink, Franz Welser-Most, Otto Klemperer, George Szell, and Sir Colin Davis. I chose Davis for my comparison listening because his was the most recent recording of the bunch and because RCA had recorded him, as they did Gatti. In this comparison, the older conductor came off the more musically mature. Davis is more direct, more velvety smooth in his transitions, and less given to dramatic pauses. The biggest differences I heard were in the third movement where Davis comes into his own, the refined assuredness of his approach adding to the section's general repose. I must admit that in the finale, however, Haitink's soloist in his 1983 recording, Roberta Alexander, sounds the most innocent of all the contenders on hand, more so than Ruth Ziesak in Gatti's ending.

In terms of sound, the Gatti disc is very clear but a bit edgy and needing in warmth. In essence, it lacks much conviction in the upper-bass department. Again by comparison, the Davis recording is darker, less airy or open, but, overall, more realistic. I'd say Gatti's is more the young person's interpretation, more impetuous and impulsive than the others in my collection. The differences are not extreme, in any case, and those who appreciated Gatti's youthful realizations of other Mahler symphonies will find much satisfaction here as well.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below:


No comments:

Post a Comment

John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

Contact Information

Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa