GUSTAV MAHLER: Symphony No. 4 – Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich/David Zinman/ Luba Orgonášová, soprano – RCA Red Seal

by | Apr 26, 2008 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

GUSTAV MAHLER: Symphony No. 4 – Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich/David Zinman/ Luba Orgonášová, soprano – RCA Red Seal multichannel SACD, CD 88697 16852 2, 57:21; Performance *** Sound *****:

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) based his Symphony No. 4 in G-flat major on one of the songs from the collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn (The Youth’s Magic Horn) published by Clemens Brentano and Achim von Arnim between 1805 and 1808. Derived from one of the songs “Das himmlische Leben” it is a child’s vision of heaven. Mahler’s initial intention was to include it as the seventh movement in his third symphony but abandoned the idea in favor of a dedicated fourth symphony. This disc was recorded on November 13-15, 2006, at the Tonhalle, Zurich, Switzerland, and the first question that comes to my mind is: do we really need another recording? What can a new recording of a much transited symphony have in the way of “novel” to merit any attention at all?

Just like everybody else in this world a conductor, any conductor, is entitled to his/her opinion and to produce another recording, so again, what’s different about Zinman’s new version? What is the motivation behind this recording? To begin with, in page 12 of the insert on the second paragraph appears this inscription: “…which should be performed ‘Very delicately and mysteriously’…” We must assume that this is the departing premise for Zinman’s interpretation and rightly so from the beginning the music is delicately played and sounds mysterious as well. Should it be that way? Why not? Zinman is entitled to his learned opinion, based on what…I just don’t know. In this sense his interpretation is unlike anything else I have ever heard.

Once he puts his orchestra in drive from the first few measures we know where this piece is going, we know is going to take anywhere from five to seven minutes longer in time than the average; Zinman’s is over 57 minutes long while the average reading is around 50 to 52 minutes. It is slow – very slow and deliberate and again, once in automatic nothing changes, the execution is faultless as far as instrumental playing is concerned and the more than ample surround sound is adequate for Zinman’s low key dynamics.

My feeling is that there is no commitment, nor is there any passion on the part of the conductor to infuse any kind of “joy” into Mahler most joyous, sunny and Viennese of all his compositions – it’s just a boring performance. A totally remote, humorless and cold performance of a symphony that in most cases under most conductors (see the Rafael Kubelik 1970 recording with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra) radiates in one way or another nothing but warmth and joy. When the end comes it does it calmly and confidently like nothing ever happened and all we had to do is to wait for it. There is no conviction in Zinman’s version and that’s a different Mahler than the one we all know. It gave me the impression that Zinman sat down to conduct with one hand while reading the paper with the other, everything is absolutely metronomic from the beginning; it’s not so much the speed but the lack of energy and motivation.

While it’s easy to hear what Zinman did it’s very difficult for me to ascertain what he stood for with his interpretation other than produce a “delicate” and “mysterious” outcome and while I can certainly be impressed by the clarity of his reading I am totally unshaken by his deliverance. In Zinman’s hands Mahler is for relaxing and I don’t think Mahler would have agreed at all with that, infused as he was all his life with a sense of straightforward and emotional dream-world of sonority remote from all connotations of human refinement and culture, such was the ideal of his symphonic art. All his symphonic works invariably exhibit a striking social, even socialistic tendency and they strive for effects of dynamic display in search of the great audience of the world. He had a message (maybe more than one) to communicate to the world at large and he developed one of the boldest symphonic styles ever known and a model for many to follow; in the end I find Zinman’s interpretation rather disturbing and unsettling.

Final words: Zinman seems to be conducting this music just for his aesthetic wants rather than the music’s own aesthetic needs. However, if you must have something very different, go for it!

— John Nemaric


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