Mahler: Symphony No. 4, Des Knaben Wunderhorn

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Virgin
ALBUM TITLE: Mahler Symphony No. 4
WORKS: Symphony No. 4, Des Knaben Wunderhorn
PERFORMER: Dorothea Roschmann, Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Daniel Harding
CATALOGUE NO: 545 6652
After the luminous beauties of

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big-band spectaculars like Tilson

Thomas’s recent San Francisco version

of Mahler Four (reviewed June 2004),

the leaner string section of Harding’s

young European ensemble takes some

adjusting to. The end result, though,

is well worth the effort. Harding’s

natural but never prosaic sense of

movement, in marked contrast to the

largesses of Rattle (EMI) and Tilson

Thomas, joins with his nimble forces

and clever sound-team in stripping

away the gloss from a deceptively

simple-seeming masterpiece.

A number of larger-scale accounts

highlight the chamber-orchestral

details in the first two movements

equally well, and boast orchestral

soloists which match – though never

surpass – the woodwind and brass

principals here. This perforamnce,

however, strikes deepest, and most

unexpectedly, when it matters most

– at the end of a slow movement paced

to unaffected perfection, the aftermath

of heaven’s gates glowing with an

intimate light unique among recorded

Fourths. Harding’s painstakingly

scaled-back pianissimos, very much

in the Rattle mould, pay off here,

and the magic continues to resonate

in an exquisite song-finale, its lively

individuality reinforced by Dorothea

Röschmann’s text-aware partnership.

Although you’ll definitely

want silence for a while after this

performance’s exquisite cor anglais has

rocked the symphony to rest, singer

and orchestra continue their perfect

accord in a cannily proportioned

sequence of three numbers from

the folk-anthology Des Knaben

Wunderhorn, gilding the symphonic

lily. A subtle delight in its own right,

then, complementing rather than

displacing the more extravagant

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glories of Tilson Thomas. David Nice