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