Mojca Erdmann (soprano)
Recorded 18-22 December 2006 in Sinfonie an der Regnitz, Joseph-Keilberth-Saal, Bamberg
Reviewed by: Christian Hoskins
Reviewed: December 2008
CD No: TUDOR 7151
Duration: 55 minutes
Some 50 years after Mahler belatedly gained recognition as one of the great composers, recordings of his symphonies continue to pour forth unabated. At least five conductors are working their way through a complete cycle, including Jonathan Nott, whose series reaches its third instalment with this release of the Fourth Symphony.
The first thing that strikes one about Nott’s performance is its transparency. This is partly down to the clear and immediate recording, but is also a result of the vivid playing that Nott encourages from Bamberger Symphoniker. The lucid textures lend the first movement an air of classicism, Mahler’s homage to Haydn and Schubert readily apparent here (although the sardonic sounding horn from 5’33” also anticipates Shostakovich). The deployment of antiphonal violins, something of a rarity in recordings of this work until recently, also emphasis the playfulness of Mahler’s writing.
In the scherzo, the sense of a macabre dance is strongly evoked by the series of vivid instrumental solos that accompany the scordatura violin. There is humour, too, in the clarinet and bassoon trills at 1’37” just before the start of the first trio. However, there is a slight lack of compensating warmth and affection in the two trios, partly down to the relatively lean strong tone but due to Nott’s shaping of phrase.
The transparency that Nott brings to the first two movements is less helpful in the slow movement. Despite some expressive woodwind playing, especially from the oboe, the strings are somewhat reticent and lack the bloom of the best rival versions. The movement’s climax is powerful, but some pages do not quite tug on the heartstrings as they should, and the radiance of the coda is slightly muted.
Many recordings of the Fourth Symphony fall short in the song finale, usually a result of the soprano being unable to capture the sense of childlike expression requested by Mahler. Fortunately Mojca Erdmann brings exactly the right character to the part and sings beautifully. Nott accompanies sensitively and brings a sense of gentle rapture to the closing pages.
As suggested earlier, the recording presents a wide-ranging and detailed sound picture (perhaps a little too detailed in the third movement, where someone’s breathing can be heard on a number of occasions during quiet passages). It is pleasing to see that Tudor is one of a number of record companies continuing to provide hybrid CD/SACDs. The 5.1 surround recording is very successful in projecting an additional degree of ambience from the Joseph-Keilberth-Saal. The booklet provides a note about the symphony and texts for song finale in English, French and German.
Among rival recordings, those by Daniele Gatti and Sir Colin Davis (both RCA) match Nott’s vividness in the earlier movements while bringing a degree more affection to the trios and luminosity to the slow movement. Limiting the comparison to CD/SACD versions, Bernard Haitink’s 2006 recording with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (RCO Live) is also recommendable, although Nott’s performance is preferable in the finale.