Mahler: Symphony No. 4 in G

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WORKS: Mahler: Symphony No. 4 in G
PERFORMER: Sunhae Im (soprano), Pittsburgh SO/Mafred Honeck
CATALOGUE NO: Exton EXCL 00048 (hybrid CD/SACD)

Now one of Mahler’s most popular symphonies, the Fourth puzzled its early critics. What were they to make of its reversion to a Classicism that sounded initially parodistic yet attains an almost Beethovenian warmth in its slow movement? How were they to understand its switches between folkloristic jollity and snarling menace? And what of its finale, not a grand orchestral summing up, but a song evoking a child’s vision of heaven? In his booklet note Honeck writes of the work’s interplay of the idyllic and the grotesque; in his interpretation he seeks to integrate these through a new look at Mahler’s instructions.
The first movement is launched relatively briskly, with less tendency to linger over those retarding upbeats than in many rival versions, and much sharply etched detail in its unfolding. The second movement, by contrast, is taken rather steadily, with Honeck relying on Mahler’s contrasts of articulation and colour rather than exaggerated playing style to create its sinister character – some of the counter-melodies from the Pittsburgh first horn sound quite hair-raising. With the Pittsburgh strings lacking a little weight and density of tone, the opening pages of the slow movement sound somewhat recessed, but the more agitated turns in the minor-key sections have real pungency and presence, and the song finale – sweetly delivered by Sunhae Im without archness or parody – achieves a fine balance between bustle and bliss. Recorded live in Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh, this release has many fresh insights to offer. Bayan Northcott