Mahler: Symphonies Nos 4-6

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Signum
ALBUM TITLE: Mahler: Symphonies Nos 4-6
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 4-6
PERFORMER: Sarah Fox (soprano); Philharmonia Orchestra/Lorin Maazel
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 361

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This second release from Lorin Maazel’s 2011 Mahler cycle in the Royal Festival Hall brings a comparably fine response from the Philharmonia, plus this veteran conductor’s acute concern for articulation, as in the first three Symphonies (reviewed here last April). But the drawbacks are more evident: notably, Maazel’s preference for deliberate tempos – it would be hard to imagine a less joyous reading of the finale of the Fifth than the plodding account here – and his addiction to unwritten rallentandos in more romantic passages. Where the late Sir Charles Mackerras dispatched the massive Sixth Symphony in under 75 gripping minutes in his 2002 BBC Philharmonic recording (released by BBC Music Magazine), Maazel takes some 14 minutes longer.

In the first two movements of the Fourth, his sharp-edged characterisation of detail compensates for less than dynamic speeds, while he launches the Adagio movement, for once, at a relatively forward-moving pace. Sarah Fox is the touching if somewhat tremulous soloist in the finale. For some reason, the recorded sound in the Fifth is slightly shallower, bordering on the harsh where Maazel, all too often in his over-the-top account of the stormy second movement, unleashes the brass. The trio sections of the third movement with their echoing horns also lack spaciousness and atmosphere. It is hard to recommend this version.

By contrast, the Sixth opens with a crisp, genuinely purposeful drive, but, come the second subject, the tempo is being pulled every which way; much the same in the Scherzo, which Maazel places second – as Mahler originally intended, though he came to prefer putting it after the Andantino, which makes for a better balance of contrasts. Best is the vast heroic finale, which Maazel makes an almost successful attempt to encompass in a single sweep – though the tragic final bars are again inordinately slowed down.

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Bayan Northcott