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.
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: