Mahler: Symphony No. 4 (CD review)

Also, Berg: 7 Early Songs. Barbara Bonney, soprano; Riccardo Chailly, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Decca 289 466 720-2.

Do I need to remind you that the Fourth Symphony remains one of Mahler's most popular pieces, maybe the most popular? The first clue is that a new performance of it seems to appear almost every month. This one from Decca, produced in September 1999, is notable in two regards: It is exceptionally well recorded, and the Berg songs make a welcome coupling.

The booklet note justifies Riccardo Chailly's reading by saying it stays closer to Mahler's final intentions than other recordings. That may be, but the realization doesn't always satisfy. Chailly makes the first movement, which should be a sweet introduction to life's journey to the Hereafter, sound ominous and menacing, perhaps in anticipation of a scarier-than-usual "Friend Death" that appears later. Unfortunately, it robs the opening piece of much of its innocence. However, the Scherzo, which should definitely be creepy, "shiveringly spooky" in Mahler's own words, under Chailly sounds rather homespun.

Riccardo Chailly
Chailly keeps the long, slow third movement well in check, gliding gracefully, if somewhat statically, into the Finale. Barbara Bonney does the concluding "Wunderhorn" song in appropriately childlike fashion, but here, too, one misses the lofty magic expected. The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra play as gloriously as ever, though, which should also count for something.

It's hard to do any real damage to a piece of music as lovely as this, but for me there are more evocative accounts under George Szell (HDTT or Sony), Bernard Haitink (Philips), Colin Davis (RCA), Otto Klemperer (EMI), Franz Welser-Most (EMI), Lorin Maazel (Sony), Claudio Abbado (DG), and others.

Nothing wrong with the sound Decca obtained for Chailly, however. The overall tone is well balanced, and there is a superbly realistic orchestral depth. Some highlighting of solo instruments mars the otherwise impeccable imaging. One can find almost no glossiness or hardness anywhere, which is a real plus. Among available discs, Chailly's is among the best sounding. It's just the interpretation you'll have to get used to.


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

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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa