WORKS: Symphony No. 4 in G
PERFORMER: Sylvia McNair (soprano)Berlin PO/Bernard Haitink
CATALOGUE NO: 434 123-2 DDD
Haitink justifies his third recording of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony by virtue of the violence and the tensions he now uncovers with almost brutal focus – surprising for a conductor who has, until recently, seemed the most even-tempered of Mahlerians. Light-footed innocence and jovial experience suffer quite a setback at the heart of the first movement: the foundations quake, the bellow of horns in their deepest register (a menacing spectre at the feast throughout this performance) briefly reveals a cleft in the green earth and then the G major good humour of the movement resumes as if nothing had happened. Such disorienting sleights of hand on the conductor’s part prepare us all the more for the sustained conflicts and contrasts of the third movement, where Haitink keeps Berlin’s heavenly strings on a careful leash until the radiance of the last dozen or so bars.
Well-sustained tempi and perfectly gauged changes of gear are more familiar aspects of the Haitink approach, though predictably the route to heaven’s gates is now a more leisurely and detailed one. It’s a pity, then, that the reward should be nothing more than Sylvia McNair’s catalogue of unearthly delights – a pretty song but an inexpressive one, touching only in the disembodied final verse. David Nice