Mahler: Symphony No. 4; Four Songs (orch. David & Colin Matthews)

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COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: RCA Red Seal
WORKS: Symphony No. 4; Four Songs (orch. David & Colin Matthews)
PERFORMER: Ruth Ziesak (soprano); RPO/Daniele Gatti
CATALOGUE NO: 75605 51345 2
There’s never a moment of easy listening, or routine playing, in Gatti’s Mahler Four. That it sounds as wide-eyed and fragile as the day it was born is, of course, partly due to the creator’s quest for weird and wonderful instrumental groupings – in which respect this alone of the Mahler canon seems to have evaded imitation by more knowing composers of later generations. But how often do you hear every member of the first movement’s innumerable lean woodwind choruses characterising so keenly? From exceptional bassoon and bass clarinet soloists upwards, the vocalising quality goes beyond even the Abbado or Bernstein performances. And this, as one can see in Gatti’s minutely inflected concert performances, comes from the infinite care and attention of the conductor.

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For some listeners, the range of tempos Gatti wields to articulate the many ideas of the opening movement may smack of over-interpretation, but both playing and recording luminously support his argument. And the effortlessly eloquent pace chosen to launch the slow movement shows that he can move the music along with perfect naturalness. Its heaven’s-gate final reverie lacks Abbado’s last degree of Viennese tenderness, but that’s soon won back by the crystalline tone and poised phrasing of soprano Ruth Ziesak in the real heavenly goal of the symphony, laying to rest a particularly ferocious sleigh-bell reminder of first-movement panic with complementary magic from the orchestra. Ziesak also charms in the Matthews brothers’ unfussy arrangements of four early songs. Here the Mahlerian themes of animal magic and human misery are already present in material already fully-rounded, and in several cases to be drawn on later. David Nice