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Mahler: Symphony No. 4; Berg: Sieben frühe Lieder
Alban Berg, Gustav Mahler, Recorded Sound
Mahler: Symphony No. 4; Berg: Sieben frühe Lieder
Genres: Special Interest, Pop, Classical
This is an oddly unsatisfying Mahler 4th. Abbado very wisely lets us hear Mahler's sensitive, chamber-like scoring and the Berliners play handsomely, but after the first few minutes of the first movement, we get the feelin...  more »


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All Artists: Alban Berg, Gustav Mahler, Recorded Sound, Claudio Abbado, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, Renée Fleming
Title: Mahler: Symphony No. 4; Berg: Sieben frühe Lieder
Members Wishing: 0
Total Copies: 0
Label: Deutsche Grammophon
Original Release Date: 1/1/2006
Re-Release Date: 1/10/2006
Genres: Special Interest, Pop, Classical
Styles: Vocal Pop, Historical Periods, Modern, 20th, & 21st Century, Symphonies
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaCD Credits: 1
UPC: 028947755746

This is an oddly unsatisfying Mahler 4th. Abbado very wisely lets us hear Mahler's sensitive, chamber-like scoring and the Berliners play handsomely, but after the first few minutes of the first movement, we get the feeling that he's being fussy, and that we are getting Mahler-under-a-microscope. The work as a whole loses impact. Perhaps in the concert hall (this is a live performance) the specificity worked its magic and the listeners could feel a part of the process, but we, at home, somehow do not get the correct effect. The Adagio is beautifully played--Abbado adds extra drama but some quick accelerandi. The finale, with its beautiful soprano solo, is the worst work I've ever heard from Renée Fleming, who, in an attempt to sound innocent, as the score is marked, actually comes across as a teenaged brat simpering with pursed lips and a big voice she's trying to hide. There are a dozen better performances available--Barbara Bonney (with Chailly), Juliane Banse (with Boulez), to name two. Fleming also sings Alban Berg's Seven Early Songs quite handsomely and imbues each with an ear for both textual and musical nuance. --Robert Levine

CD Reviews

The most personal--and mercurial--Mahler Fourth in decades
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 01/14/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Far from being difficult anymore, Mahler's symphonies seem to roll off the tongue quite easily now. Too easily in the case of the Fourth Sym., which sounds basically the same from performance to performance, given a few changes in tempo and recorded sound. Abbado has decided to go his own way, however, which makes this live performance from May, 2005, fascinating. He finds unexpected phrasing, tempo transitions, and mood shifts almost from bar to bar. The first movement skips with brisk accents in the opening theme, slows down dreamily for the second theme, and has so many quirky intrusions by solo voices that you are carried into the ghostly, surreal world of the Seventh Sym. I find this a wonderful change since the Fourth can be too soft and candied. Abbado's version actually has some eeriness and bite.

The Berlin Phil. plays with tremendous elan and spontaneity--they clearly revere Abbado and respond to his inspiration (the touching booklet photos show him looking old, gaunt, and vulnerable). The mistuned devil's fiddle in the second movement is gentler than usual but full of character. The slow movement is marked by a kind of unanimity in the strings that seems supernatural; this movement is intensely expressive without being heavy-handed. Some critics have been unhappy with Renee Fleming as soloist in the finale. Usually divas pretending to sound like innocent children wind up parodying themselves. Fleming throws the child impersonation out the windw. There's no doubt that her voice is full and mature, and her attention to the text is too mannered--she joins Schwarzkopf in that regard. But the ravishing tone and musicality of her singing make for enjoyment, and Abbado has lots of ideas here, as everywhere else.

Most Mahler Fourths have no filler. At 56 min. that would make this a stingy CD, but we get Alban Berg's Seven Early Songs, and they are a triumph in Fleming's hands. For vocal plushness she exceeds even Jessye Norman in this music, and as an interpreter Fleming is much more involving. One longs for her to perform more modern music so that she can cast the spell of her radiant voice over it.

In all, this is a special CD that goes to the top of my list of Mahler Fourths along with Bernstein's Sony recording with the NY Phil. Sonically, the new CD is everything one could ask for, also."
Mahler's "transcendent" Fourth
jean couture | Quebec city - Canada | 11/05/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Initially i hated this disc. Still, with successive listenings i began to realize how affirmative and vital is that view of the symphony; the more i listen the more i like it. Mahler's powerful Fourth receives a tremendous performance by the Berlin Philharmonic, still one of the truly great orchestral ensembles on earth. The BPO is a forceful instrument that can (and effectively does) communicate with skill a vision of chaos or a threat through rhythmic behemoths, with boisterous crescendos and shimmering collisions of sound. It can render just as properly the smoothest passages with delicacy and crystalline grace. The fact that Mahler's famous Fourth in G can be described, at least in part, as `power music' belies how the attitude in concern with the work can vary from one conductor (and orchestra) to another. As such, it calls for a large orchestra--unless one is interested by its tamed down (though interesting) chamber arrangement. For me, the Fourth Symphony is one of the greatest achievements by the hand of man. Not only is it Mahler's best work in summing up a sort of unavowed synthesis of his musical `career', but it is also--and most importantly perhaps--the central pillar of his symphonic odyssey (more so than the Fifth on that point).

Because it connects the vocal with the purely musical forms, even what we would call `abstracts', the Fourth defines what i would call the `trademark' Gustav Mahler. Here, Abbado grabs the Mahler sound (perhaps i should say A Mahler sound); it's difficult to explain `cause Mahler possesses his own `sound' which must be heard to be appreciated. From the First Symphony to the last, there's something of the mythic and of the heroic mold in his tone that eludes quite a few conductors and orchestras and make some of them simply do not catch a music `beyond comprehension'. Unavoidably, Mahler's music has that special Viennese earmark which contributes its refinement--even in subtle dosage it makes a difference. Although his Second and Third symphonies bear firsthand comparisons with the Fourth in being fully mature vocal/orchestral works--and fine ones for sure, neither does so convincingly and ingeniously secure what's in the Fourth, even though the latter has no parts for a chorus nor does it contain extraneous instrumentation. And, yes, that probably is the finest symphony of Mahler!

Abbado and the BPO contribute in one of the finest interpretations, much in the vein of their equally excellent and appropriately tragic Sixth from the same series (their Sixth, if anything, sounds even better). Some people will undoubtedly criticize Renee Fleming's voice (or `vocal style') in the last movement, but somehow i find her parts to be satisfying a lot, even though for that specific work she's obviously no rival to names like Reri Grist, Lisa della Casa or Alexandra Coku. On the musical side there are some fleet choices of tempi a la Kubelik and on occasion i find Abbado almost quite as convincing as was the late Czech master. I recently watched Abbado on tv, leading Beethoven's Seventh in Berlin with great success. His technique of the baton--and gesticulation--has a particular magnetism. Claudio Abbado and his cohorts undeniably succeed with the present masterpiece from Mahler but, overall, conductors in the likes of Walter, Horenstein or Bernstein--to name a few--are still the staunchest proponents in that area. The Berg Lieder couplings are delightful readings and here Fleming is at her rapt best. A nice choice for `fillers', definitely.

The Fourth is one of the greatest symphonies ever composed. Mahler's Fourth and Sixth are among the greatest in history (1-9 are all great, but 4 and 6 are distinctly exceptional - i.m.h.o.). And it is one of the most mysterious and attractive too, juxtaposing simplicity with arrogance, compassion with mockery. The music has a lyrical quality seldom heard elsewhere. To cite Peter Gutmann in his excellent Classical Notes, the Fourth Symphony contains "the polyphony of the 17th century, the forms and light scoring of the 18th, the motivic development of the 19th and even a glance ahead to the extreme intensification of the `new Viennese school' of the 20th". In this work there's virtually a bit of everything Mahler did, from the Song of the Earth to the Ninth Symphony. The symphony offers a wealth of harmonic and rhythmic mosaics in tuneful measures, although with slightly dimmed colors, unveiling its neoclassical origins with surprising wit. And we should not lose sight of the fact that, grosso modo, this is "the sunniest of Mahler's symphonies." In substance the first movement bears something akin to the Viennese waltz. The second movement defines what is, almost ideally, a `real' scherzo. It sounds as if in the process some highly volatile music has been partially tamed or restrained. The recurrent string theme is analogous to some sort of folkish dance tune. Not to mention the use of scordatura (or `slack tuning'), an odd technique which Mahler applied to the main violin. Before it reaches a climax toward its ending, the extended third movement (approx. 18-20 minutes in length) is mostly pensive and dreamy. By its autumnal temper it seems at times to be wandering somewhere between Sibelius's Tuonela and Ravel's Pavane. However, any attempt to confine such complex and individual music within the boundaries of an incomplete analysis is futile. In truth, Mahler's unique sound world just doesn't stand comparison to others. The fourth movement (finale) is propelled forward rhythmically and adds the voice in the radiant "Wunderhorn" tune, divinely hymnic in nature. I've probably never heard something sounding so otherworldly in a symphony; the dazzling conclusion simply is a stroke of genius. This is one of the most marvelous and enigmatic finales to be heard in symphonic music.

The reading from the Abbado-Berlin team preserves the temporal, primeval quality of Mahler's music, mandatory to any satisfying account. Of the fifteen different versions i own, the Abbado is one of the best musically. A recording i'm also fond of is by Hartmut Haenchen conducting the Netherlands Philharmonic (that one has the advantage of Alexandra Coku - a soprano with a fine, stunningly glowing voice, and the reading itself possesses most of--if not all--the requisite qualities making subtle nuances and details, hitherto somewhat veiled or indistinct, openly heard). Mahler's sound world necessitates openness or that little extra in transparency. Another feature or trick of the master composer was to finish a work into the ether: The Fourth is an especially eloquent case. As distinctive trait, the closing bars to the final movement (which effectively conclude the symphony) stop rather abruptly and make it sound like `unfinished'. The effect is a bit jarring if not a little disconcerting and that's probably what the composer had in mind: A sense of loss making contrast with the heavenly, childlike vision of the Des Knaben quotation. It's almost like a sort of deadlock on which the work never completely resolves. Fascinating! At that point, i am tempted to conclude my comments with Mr. Stan Ruttenberg's quite right words summing up his brief essay on Mahler's Fourth ( "But whatever, this is a lovely work, to be enjoyed just for its sheer beauty, without need to `understand' it." [-/-]"
The least successful of Abbado's Mahler Symphonies: The Fine
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 04/18/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Claudio Abbado conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in this latest installment of his survey of the symphonies of Gustav Mahler. The cycle has been highly successful to date and that is one reason to wonder what happened in this version of the Mahler 4th. The orchestra plays well, Abbado conducts with authority, but the joy of the piece feels somehow buried in minutiae.

Not that it is bad to take a different stance on what is probably Mahler's most frequently performed symphony: examinations of the score reveal there are discrepancies where conductorial decisions can differ. But the overall flow of this very magical symphony for this listener seems to remain earthbound. And this is not aided by Renee Fleming's entrance in the final movement. Where other artists (Bonney, Ameling, Hendricks, etc) and bring forth the childlike wonder of the poetry, Fleming's voice - beautiful though it is - weighs the words down.

It is therefore a pleasing surprise that the Seven Early Songs by Alban Berg come across so perfectly! Rarely have these songs been rendered with such sensitivity and communication and the vocal estate of Fleming in this cycle flourishes. These Berg Songs alone are worth the addition of this otherwise merely satisfactory recording of the Mahler 4th to the library. Grady Harp, April 06