* MAHLER: Symphony No. 4 – Miah Persson, soprano /Budapest Festival Orchestra /Iván Fischer – Channel Classics

by | May 27, 2009 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

MAHLER: Symphony No. 4 – Miah Persson, soprano /Budapest Festival Orchestra /Iván Fischer – Channel Classics multichannel SACD CCSSA26109, 57:00 ***** [Distr. by Harmonia mundi]:

Mahler’s Fourth Symphony is the last of the Wunderhorn symphonies, and with the First the shortest of the cycle. In this case, the Wunderhorn content arrives in the last movement, Das himmlische Leben (Heaven’s Life) from Das Knaben Wunderhorn, sung by a soprano. This movement was written as a stand alone piece in 1892, and Mahler considered using it as the last movement of the Third Symphony.

Scored for a relatively small orchestra and frequently using light instrumentation, this symphony is recognised as one of the composer’s most accessible. Opening with sleigh bells, the first movement is gentle; the second movement has the first violin adopt scordatura tuning, involving tuning a tone sharp for the scary sound Mahler wanted for Old Nick, the devil’s playing.

The substantial adagio, a movement of great beauty, has moments of great restraint in contrast to outbursts of great passion is a remarkable lead into the last movement, the child’s view of paradise, as Mahler said, “With childlike, cheerful expression, without parody.” Here, Miah Persson is quite superb, getting the balance just right in all Mahler required.

The Budapest Festival Orchestra, founded by Iván Fischer and Zoltán Kocsis over an unbelievable quarter of a century ago, retains some of that Mid- and East-European tone and allure, so right for this music. Piquant clarinets imitating trumpets and colourful horn playing are memorable. Fischer also gets the balance just right, between observing all the details in the score and yet getting a feeling of natural and unstultified breath in the architecture. These attributes are more than enough to justify this release in a crowded market place.

And then there’s the recording. Jared Sacks and Hein Dekker have retained the full dynamic range so that the few climaxes for full orchestra, especially that towards the end of the third movement, make their full effect. Listeners may need to play this SACD at a slightly higher level than normal. Recorded in September 2008 in Budapest’s Palace of Arts this DSD recording is exemplary in both multichannel and stereo programmes, with the former especially notable.

This performance has given much pleasure over the past three weeks, and will surely be one of the recordings to make its mark with me in 2009.  Just superb.

— Peter Joelson

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