Mahler: Symphony No. 4

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Symphony No. 4
PERFORMER: Juliane Banse (soprano); Cleveland Orchestra/Pierre Boulez
CATALOGUE NO: 463 257-2
Having raged against the obscene efficiency of Boulez’s live (Barbican) Mahler Six, I’m relieved to return to the more comfortable detachment of CD. Again, Boulez provides plenty of fresh food for thought in a Mahler interpretation quite unlike anyone else’s – in this case going back beyond the early-Romantic, Schubertian starting-point of the Symphony to an 18th-century Classicism which gives the first movement a slightly smug nimbleness: it’s hardly surprising that the return to equability after a none-too-seismic development is so effortlessly achieved. The scherzo is graced by spot-on intonation, hardly devilish but slightly eerie, at least, in a low-level coda, and while the heavenly radiance of the slow movement lacks atmospheric space around it, those treacherously hard-to-project cries from the heart between the variations are impressively voiced. The song finale, following after surely too long a pause, has a singer of inappropriately mezzo-ish colour in Juliane Banse, but she creates magic with the secret rapture of the final verse.

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Not quite everything in the playing has the flawlessness one expects from Boulez’s meticulous ear. The first clarinet is in the doghouse, or following an edition I know nothing about at several points, most conspicuously in a couple of significant, trilled notes in track 2 (2:17, bar 91 in the score). But his characterful bass brother helps to make amends. As for the experience as a whole, gleamingly recorded, it’s at the other end of the scale from Gatti’s idiosyncratic, theatrical interpretation – a little like watching a performance of an opera when the scene-shifters have gone on strike. David Nice