WORKS: Symphony No 4
PERFORMER: Christiane Oelze (soprano); Gürzenich Orchestra, Cologne/Markus Stenz
CATALOGUE NO: OC 649
How self-conscious should Mahler’s most neo-classical symphony sound? The jewelled clockwork is very elaborate and fine-tuned indeed, no mere Schubertian pastiche, but that’s no reason why players shouldn’t approach it with freedom and esprit.
Here, right from the first jingling of sleigh-bells, Markus Stenz keeps such a tight rein on everything, and manoeuvres the many tempo-changes so obviously, that most of the spontaneity goes out of the wide-open window.
That’s a pity, because in the opening movement the chamber-musical balances are exemplary, the gurgling Cologne clarinets suitably animalistic and, for all that Stenz denies any gloom in his booklet comments, the development gathers the necessary scary shadows.
So far, then, this is a four-star performance. But friend death’s scherzo violin would never be in this kind of hurry – was there a misreading of ‘ohne Hast’ (without haste) as ‘ohne Rast’ (restless), perhaps? – and despite every string glissando in place, the heavenly smile of St Ursula that should halo the great movement is distinctly earthbound, more a clunky grimace.
Stenz is better here at the crises of experience than the innocence, and Christiane Oelze, a lovely singer whom I’d expected to redeem all in the song-finale, sounds uncharacteristically breathy and short on charm. No match this, then, for either of Abbado’s winsome versions or indeed the multitude of top-notch Fourths, unless it’s state-of-the-art super audio sound you’re after. David Nice