Sarah Fox (soprano)
Sir Charles Mackerras
Recorded 16 February 2006 in Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: October 2010
CD No: SIGNUM CLASSICS
Duration: 57 minutes
Rarely has Mahler 4 begun in such jaunty fashion, Sir Charles Mackerras bustles the music along almost as a continuation of something that had started earlier. He doesn’t lack affection though, for the slower episodes are lovingly moulded and there’s plenty of spicy details and ruffling accents registering, too, the orchestra ideally positioned, the violins antiphonal and the double basses on the left (just as Mahler expected and wrote for); all clearly heard in a Queen Elizabeth Hall acoustic (the Royal Festival Hall being closed for refurbishment during 2006) that is a fine blend of clarity and space – here nothing is added and nothing taken away in this well-produced and -engineered recording.
This music can linger, too, almost snoozing, a measure of the multi-faceted symphony that Mahler designed and this full appreciation of it by Mackerras and the Philharmonia Orchestra. The conductor’s flexible approach and his relish of Mahler’s scoring are vividly projected, and which is naturally captured by the microphones. The conductor’s long-term vision ensures that climaxes are the real thing, not merely loud (or louder than the surrounding bars) but emerging as an inevitable outpouring. During the first movement one has enjoyed studio-quality playing, enough to wonder if this is in-fact a without-audience traversal, which wouldn’t matter if it was, although this Signum release is annotated as capturing a ‘live’ occasion, and so the very infrequent coughs are welcome, so too the audience’s hubbub to signal the end of the first movement, a demonstrable example of an audience relieving its concentration.
Mackerras unearths the macabre nature of the second movement, pushing it forward but relaxing where necessary; whoever was leading the Philharmonia that night, and sporting Mahler’s required two fiddles (one tuned higher), should feel rightly aggrieved at not receiving a credit in the booklet. The symphony’s heart is the slow movement, which Mackerras treats as a solemn if rapturous journey, darkly pastoral, intensely communicative, its varied episodes vividly delineated, sudden rushes, some measures heart-stopping in their delay, while remaining ‘all of a piece’, the movement’s Heaven-storming peak made majestic, its backwash a transcendent mediation … and then the perfect attacca into the finale, its innocent view of paradise brightly conveyed by Sarah Fox, the orchestra brusque in its ripostes, the two happily coming together for the final lullaby. Ideally, applause should has been excised but here intrudes after the dying-away close; fine on the night, of course, but not away from it.
On its own terms this is a very distinguished account of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony; it is also a splendid memorial to the late Sir Charles Mackerras’s long-term and vital association with the Philharmonia Orchestra.