Mahler: Symphony No. 4

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Channel
WORKS: Symphony No. 4
PERFORMER: Miah Persson (soprano); Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer


Iván Fischer’s mission statement in the CD booklet suggests a relatively straightforward view of this Symphony: here is a story begun by ‘enchanting sleigh bells’ and ending in a ‘lovely, childish vision of paradise’. And up to a point it’s mission accomplished. There is much here that is lovely: touchingly open, affectionate phrasing, a sense of wide-eyed wonder in the realisation of every fabulous touch of scoring. (Plenty for the SACD listener to relish there.) It’s a performance that seems constantly alive, on so many levels, without ever veering into the swooning excess of Bernstein at his worst. On the other hand it’s a long way from the glossy coldness of too many modern versions.

And yet for me the effect is more complicated than Fischer’s words suggest. Mahler spoke of ‘nightmares and horrors’ in this Symphony, and they are there too. The slightly rough edge of the re-tuned fiddle in the Scherzo suggests more than pantomime demonics, while the orchestra’s imitation of the ox lowing as it is ‘led to the slaughter’ in the finale is a touch too realistic to be entirely comfortable. Soprano Miah Persson’s utterly un-ironic portrayal of the child’s delight intensifies the effect – how callous children can be.


At the same time Fischer’s feeling of the Symphony’s supple architecture, his ability to caress a phrase or point out a delicious colour without losing the sense of that larger flow, make this one of the most musically satisfying recordings to appear in a long time – worthy to put beside the great Jascha Horenstein/Margaret Price 1970 version, but in spirit wholly individual. Stephen Johnson