Mahler:Symphony No. 4

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler,Schoenberg
LABELS: Medici Arts
WORKS: Mahler: Symphony No. 4; Schoenberg: Pelleas und Melisande
PERFORMER: Juliane Banse (soprano); Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra/Claudio Abbado
CATALOGUE NO: 2055488 (NTSC system; PCM stereo; 16:9 picture format)

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To follow the essentially dark and turbulent late-Romantic love triangle of Schoenberg’s tone-poem Pelleas und Melisande with the light fantastic of Mahler’s neo-classical Fourth Symphony, works composed only a couple of years apart at the beginning of the 20th century, was an inspired start. What ensues in Abbado’s Vienna concert with the youth orchestra that he helped to found, and in the presentation, is surely unsurpassable.

Putting the programmatic cart before the horse, let’s start by praising the filmed introduction to Pelleas, with its abundance of apt paintings from the period, and the way the film-makers extend playwright Maeterlinck’s original idea of colour-coding Pelleas as green, Melisande as blue and jealous husband Golaud as red into the underlining of the leitmotifs during the performance. Never too intrusive, it points the DVD way forward for works of similar illustrative complexity like Strauss’s Don Quixote.

The performances, of course, matter most, and as always in Abbado’s more recent work the music’s inner life comes ot in the expressions not only of this most sympathetic of all conductors but also of the young players, combining intense watchfulness with engaging physicality.

As an ideally flexible, carefully textured performance, the Schoenberg must surely go straight to the top of all recorded interpretations. Mahler Four has strong competition from Abbado’s earlier Vienna and Berlin Philharmonic versions on CD. The Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra strings may not have quite the same sheen, but the extra degree of chamber-musical interaction and the phrasing of Juliane Banse in the most magical song-finale I’ve ever witnessed should tip the balance in this performance’s favour.

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A CD release is essential, too. David Nice