Mahler, Berg

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Berg,Mahler
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Symphony No. 4
PERFORMER: Barbara Bonney (soprano); Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly
CATALOGUE NO: 466 720-2
Every sound is alive in Chailly’s predictably luminous Mahler Four, but not quite every phrase – which is, of course, another matter. The songlike melody of the opening movement is surprisingly portly – Mahler’s quaint childhood journey only really begins to add up when ghosts and gnomes creep out of the woodwork in the development – and there’s something curiously dead behind the eyes about the string sonorities of the poco adagio. Yet the lonely oboe solos between the brighter reveries here are peerlessly voiced, and the impressive colouring of the Concertgebouw woodwind throughout helps to reinforce a crucial point – that no reprise of Mahler’s symphonic ideas is a matter of simple repetition. The scherzo flies along with brilliant articulation, and the ‘child’s view of heaven’ inhabits another world from its very first bars. Barbara Bonney can be a little tight in places, not quite the ideal of Ruth Ziesak in Gatti’s altogether more coherent reading; but she goes on to capture the adolescent ache of Berg’s Seven Early Songs with some generous phrasing. Chailly’s balancing act is a real asset here, with muted brass implacably anticipating the grown-up Berg.

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Kubelík’s live 1981 Mahler Fifth is a reminder that you can have everything in Mahler – intricate texturing, characterful playing, purposeful phrasing and a cumulative impact which leaves you breathless with exhilaration. Only Bernstein, also captured before an audience, can do the same, and although Kubelík pulls some very theatrical stops out as the clouds part in the second movement and the light fades from the scherzo, his generally faster-moving picture tells a very different story. David Nice