Mahler: Symphony No. 4; talk by Benjamin Zander

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

LABELS: Telarc
WORKS: Symphony No. 4; talk by Benjamin Zander
PERFORMER: Camilla Tilling (soprano); Philharmonia Orchestra/Benjamin Zander
This is a Mahler Fourth with every i dotted and every t crossed. If there’s an accent marked you can always hear it, every little crescendo and decrescendo tells, and Zander makes the Philharmonia scrupulously observe the balance between individual parts. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a recording of the Symphony that’s a more accurate account of the score. So, five stars all round and all the competition in the dustbin? Well, no actually: what I miss is the bigger picture of an overall shape for each movement, inner life in the phrasing and, ultimately, a sense of affection for the music. Take the portamenti: sliding between the notes isn’t enough – the gesture has to be an integral, caressing part of the musical phrase. Here, the magical, unexpected move to a C major chord towards the end of the slow movement is approached by a directionless slither. Zander’s analytical approach works best in the second movement, with the bizarre sound of the specially tuned-up solo violin and the more extreme gestures in the scoring and dynamics. In the finale, Camilla Tilling is nicely childlike, but she’s hampered by Zander’s slightly ponderous opening tempo. Ultimately, the whole thing sounds more like a lesson on the Symphony than a performance of it. Luckily there’s no shortage of these, and my favourite by a short margin comes from the VPO, Mahler’s orchestra, responding naturally under Abbado to the ebb and flow of the music, with Frederica von Stade as the classy soloist. Martin Cotton