MAHLER: Symphony No. 4 in G Major – Teresa Stich-Randall, soprano/ Vienna Symphony Orchestra/ Otto Klemperer
Testament SBT 1397, mono 53:58 (Distrib. Harmonia mundi) ****:
Otto Klemperer’s association with Mahler’s Fourth Symphony dates back to his first concert program of 30 January 1912; so by the time of this concert 21 June 1955, Klemperer had a long, personal concept in mind, eminently Viennese yet unafraid to confront the eerie, morbid, and vulgar streaks in the composer’s pantheistic syntax. For this reading from Vienna’s Musikverein, Klemperer chose the “white” soprano Teresa Stich-Randall, a frequent soloist with Rosbaud in France and Baden-Baden, and the luminary in the Epic label inscription with Willem van Otterloo. Her ingenuous color and molded phrasing provide just the right balance of worldliness and naïve innocence to the heavenly slaughter, the angelic feast.
I am beguiled by the idiosyncratic touches Klemperer brings to this reading, including all kinds of portamenti and ritards, a luscious concentration on the scordatura (higher-pitched) violin for the invocation of Death’s fiddle in the second movement. At many points in the performance, we can clearly hear Klemperer’s vocal injunctions to the players, sighs and grunts, the passions of a sixty-seven-year-old acolyte of his former mentor and musical god. As plastic and architectural as the realization is, it does not want for rough edges and a shimmering earthiness which often belies Mahler’s quest for transcendence. Sensuous and transparently vertical in his approach, Klemperer will engage those familiar with Mahler by revealing lines and contours often buried or blurred in others’ inscriptions. While the brevity of the disc, offering no overture nor orchestral filler, tempted me to downgrade my evaluation, the sheer musicality and uncanny sympathy to the Mahler style demand my full respect. Recommended.
[What overture would be appropriate for Mahler’s Fourth? I didn’t recall he wrote any. Personally I wouldn’t call 54 minutes brief. I think classical labels shouldn’t be reprimanded if they give us at least 45 minutes, and in my opinion many jazz and pop discs would be 100% better if they stopped at 30 minutes rather than filling out with fluff or worse…Ed.]