Ignore the Comparisons
Woodland Poet | 03/19/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For the record, I am commenting on this recording's musical performance, not the "super audio CD" aspects of the disc.
That said the recorded sound on this disc does sound very very beautiful. There is great balance, and much breathing room in the piece. David Zinman's triumph here is allowing the score to be the star on this recording, not as it would seem his own person ambitions as are apparent on other recordings by other conductors. (This is not always a bad thing, simply a different approach.) Zinman's restraint is breathtaking, the brass playing is articulate and absolutely pitch perfect. And as with the previous Zinman recordings of Mahler symphonies I was delightedly impressed with the playing of the woodwinds and how they came alive in the recorded sound. The percussion is clear and delicate, an important point as light percussion is very prominent in this symphony. The playing by the principal soloists is brilliant and makes repeated listenings worthwhile; note the violin solo playing in the second movement. Luba Orgonasova's performance should be viewed in light of the rest of this performance; detailed, articulate, powerful, as another beautiful instrument in the orchestra and score. What the result of all this is, is an extremely musical and lyrical performance of the Mahler 4th Symphony; not a interpretation, but rather a translation of the score that jumps off the page. One can listen to the disc again and again and mentally focus on any part of the score and appreciate all of the details, something to be savoured in the Mahler 4th.
David Zinman is now in the midst of a great musical journey and this disc is only the latest step. The Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra is now its seems at the height of it's musical powers and this is exciting to see. This is no entry level performance, this is mature and disciplined music making at its finest. If you haven't purchased or heard any of the Zinman Mahler symphonies, this is a great first disc. This is not a Mahler cycle for the sake of a Mahler cycle. Zinman is taking great care with each symphony.
While the contributions of Leonard Bernstein to the Mahler legacy are immeasurable, I think that it is entirely unfair to make comparisons between Zinman in 2008 to Bernstein in 1960. Both are great recordings, for radically different reasons. I give the edge to Zinman, who has a better orchestra and vastly different technology at his disposal. The only modern version that comes to this one is Christoph von Dohnanyi's now out of print version (1994) with the Cleveland Orchestra and Dawn Upshaw."
Beautifully recorded; let down only by the soprano
B. Guerrero | 03/14/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Wow, what a gorgeous sounding recording! The unaffected naturalness of the old Abravanel recording is everywhere evident here; only this Zinman Mahler 4th has a far bigger dynamic range, and even more "air" around the instruments. Unfortunately, I'm dinging this down to four stars because of the less than comfortable sounding contribution from soprano Luna Orgonasova.
Certainly, Orgonasova doesn't come anywhere close to completely spoiling this, the way that Renee Fleming nearly did for Abbado's Berlin remake of Mahler 4 (go figure! - especially since she sounded so great in the Berg songs). But what's truly frustrating, is that Orgonasova sounds perfectly relaxed and sweet-toned during the soft singing that makes up the bulk of Mahler's final stanza. She executes that descending portamento on "Sanct Ursula dazu lacht" just beautifully, for example; but then, awkwardly ratchets the tension back up for "Cecilia mit ihren Verwandten sind treffliche Hoffmusikanten". What's also fortunate, though, is that she's not recorded real upfront. That helps!
I don't mean to dwell too much on this point; Orgonasova would do perfectly fine on one of the three soprano parts from Mahler's 8th symphony (and maybe she'll show up on Zinman's 8th). But for the 4th, a far less operatic sounding singer is required - someone who can come closer to a youngish boy, such as Camilla Tilling (Ben. Zander on Telarc) or Barbara Bonney (Chailly on Decca). But for the rest of the symphony, hardly a complaint should be mustered by anyone.
I would have preferred that the climax to the development passage of the first movement be more menacing sounding, as it is on Chailly's very fine recording of the 4th (it sounds more like the start of the 5th symphony!). But that incredible climax to the slow movement - the one that was used so effectively in the movie "El Norte" - may be the best that it's ever sounded on any recording, ever! - that's truly saying something. The scherzo possess the requisite tension and "air of menace" that should be there too. In total, for the first three movements, one could hardly do better. The orchestral accompaniment in the fourth movement is perfectly fine as well.
So,if you already own a Mahler 4th with a soprano that you really like, I don't see any need to add this one to your arsenal. But for anyone who wants to keep collecting the so-far/so-good Zinman cycle - perhaps the modern day equivalent of the old Kubelik cycle - there's no reason not to add this one along. I certainly have no regrets about picking it up: I love the sound and the orchestral execution, especially at the slow movement's climax.
Nicely Performed and Recorded
Virginia Opera Fan | Falls Church, VA USA | 03/13/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I enjoyed my first hearing of this new release in Zinman's ongoing Mahler cycle with the Tonhalle Orchestra. Everything is nicely judged, well played, and clearly recorded. The SACD layer gives a nice sense of the hall. The second movement solo violin employs appropriate portamento, giving the music an appropriate macabre, or gypsy, bent (depending on how you view the character of the movement). The third movement contrasts the placid and the agitated very nicely.
The finale doesn't hold up the promise of the first three movements. Orgonasova gives us a rather bland vision of the heavenly hosts at the dinner table. The singing, as such, is very nice and her diction is quite good. There just doesn't seem to be much interest in the proceedings. Contrast her work to that of Della Casa, Margaret Price, Reri Grist, and Camilla Tilling to see that there can be a personal imprint while avoiding "any hint of parody" as specified in Mahler's score.
Overall, this is a very good rendering of the symphony. The SACD format gives a very lifelike sonic picture of some very good playing. It doesn't, however, dethrone older favorites like Bernstein (I), Horenstein, Reiner, and Benjamin Zander."