Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mahler: Symphony 4

Mahler: Symphony 4
Bernard Haitink; Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; Christine Schäfer
RCO Live #7003

Now, as a reviewer the temptation to act like I know everything there is to know about classical music is very easy (fun too) so I’d like to start out this review by saying this is my introduction to Mahler’s 4th symphony.

I’m usually hesitant about Mahler in general, even if I’m already familiar with the piece. His music is just so damn mature than sometimes I feel like a child trying desperately to follow along in a grown ups conversation. The 4th though, to my great discovery, is very light, gentle, airy and most importantly, very accessible. Out of all the Mahler I’ve heard this is head and shoulders the most tuneful or dare I say ‘classical’ I’ve ever heard Mahler be. His music breaths and flows at a very natural pace. It’s never trying to be more than what it is. It almost seems like a happy carefree mood embodies the whole piece. At no point does it feel bogged down by the dramatic harmonic thickness that I tend to associate with Mahler.

Because of the ‘classical’ characteristics this symphony embodies, Mahler’s colorful melodies actually shine for once. They aren’t masked behind the hugeness of an orchestra along with 3 different choirs, miscellaneous vocal soloists or an organ or whatever Mahler as thrown in. The melodies glisten and they show off, they unfold gracefully and playfully giving the ear perfect focus points. Particularly in the first movement, the rhythm is lively and buoyant, dance like (although a variety of different dances), filled with bells and chimes and strong percussion.

The 2nd movement is almost wry in nature, predominantly from the woodwinds. It’s almost as if Mahler was telling us an amusing little anecdote before the next two movements. The 3rd movement is longest, but it’s also the most traditionally romantic of all the movements and romance is rarely fast. I say that, but my immediate comparison would probably actually be Bach’s Air on G String. It starts out with a nice slow walking tempo with the type of lilting melodies that I’m sure Percy Faith stole. The 4th brings one of my favorite aspects of any Mahler piece, a nice juicy spot for soprano. Let no one ever say Mahler couldn’t write a great piece for soprano. He always knew just how to let the singer really savor every syllable and here Christine Schäfer just sinks her teeth right into it.

Overall this is a side of Mahler I had not really seen before. There had been hints of his gentle side in his 1st symphony, and I could see humor in his 2nd, but after hearing the 3rd this is not the direction I thought his mind would have gone towards (especially if you know what the 5th has in store). Overall this will make a tremendous addition to my Mahler collection.

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