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Recordings

LSO Live LSO0662  [SACD]
08 Feb 2012

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 4

If Mahler’s Fourth Symphony is arguably one of his more familiar pieces, live performances of the work can vary depending on the abilities of the performers to meet the various challenges of the piece.

Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 4

Laura Clayclomb, soprano, London Symphony Orchestra, Valery Gergiev, conductor.

LSO Live LSO0662 [SACD]

$13.99  Click to buy

The scoring encompasses a range of timbres and dynamic levels, which make it sometimes hard to capture live. Such is not the case with Valery Gergiev’s recent recording of the work, which is based on performances on 11 and 12 January 2008 at the Barbican, London. Like another outstanding live recording, the late Giuseppe Sinopoli’s release on Hänssler Classics, Gergiev’s conveys the intensity that is sometimes easier to achieve in a studio than in a concert tall.

Gergiev’s approach to the first movement is laudable for the conductor’s keen sense of the piece and the interrelationships between phrases, themes, and sections as take shape as the structure of the piece unfolds. With a score that the composer revised several time in his career, the scorings are sufficiently precise when allowed to sound as intended, a quality that is apparent from the start. The climax of the development is built on a pedal point that allows the sound mass to grow as the ideas accumulate, with the resulting crescendo emerging from the thematic ideas overlapping, rather than some artifice on the part of the conductor. This movement is also notable for the way the LSO’s ensemble works as a unit to allow the orchestration to support the structure. The entrances of the different instruments that are part of the scoring the primary theme of the movement allow the audience to perceive the result as a single gesture.

A similar affinity with the scoring is apparent in the second movement, where the scordatura solo violin is supported by a tight and sensitive ensemble. For example, the low-range pitches of the horns emerge discreetly at the opening of the movement, with the instrument achieving a brassy quality only later in the movement, when the thematic material shifts to them. The trumpet is likewise suited well to the timbre of the movement, as its color shades the structure. The portamento indications are played tastefully, with the slides fitting nicely into the phrasing. The sometimes detached rhythmic figures that Mahler used are played clearly, just as the pizzicato passages are cleanly articulated.

With the third movement, Mahler’s set of double variations, the atmospheric opening suggestion Beethoven’s quartet “Mir ist so wunderbar” from the first act of Fidelio, albeit with a metric shift. The chamber-music sounds resonate warmly, as the movement takes shape palpably. This is a spacious performance that merits attention because of the intensity Gergiev creates in it. Here the characteristics of the variations emerge in each section of this carefully structured performance. The phrasing merits attention, because it is possible to hear in this recording connections to various elements of the Song-Finale, a details that is confirmed in the final track, when Gergiev’s performance of “Das himmlische Leben” caps the structure. Even before that point, the slow movement is also persuasive for the ways its symphonic dimensions unfold naturally. The concluding variation leads convincingly into the Coda, which explodes with a full sound that tapers as the sonority dissolves into the individual ideas with which this passage concludes.

The final sonorities of the Coda lead almost imperceptibly to the Song-Finale, “Das himmlische Leben,” which Laura Claycomb performs convincingly. Gergiev’s tempos allow Claycomb to enunciate the text clearly, while always blending the words effectively with the musical thoughts. She seems to perform the song effortlessly. It sits well for her voice, and the plain, clear sound adheres to the composer’s instructions in the score. The balances between the orchestra and singer are captured well in a performance that stands well alongside the classic ones in the Mahler discography. This recording has much to offer as a faithful yet impassioned interpretation of this familiar work.

The audio quality of the recording is spacious and nuanced, with the wide range of dynamics and textures presented well. In addition, details like audience sounds are minimal, with the entire effort seeming like a studio recording, even though the dynamism of the performance is present throughout it. The banding convention is to present the work in four movements. Yet with such as detailed interpretation, the recording would benefit from banding that would allow listeners to access various parts of the individual movements, since listeners will, no doubt, want to return to it.

Jim Zychowicz

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