Mahler: Symphonie No 4 / Herreweghe, Champs-elysees Orchestra

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MAHLER Symphony No. 4 Phillipe Herreweghe, cond; Rosemary Joshua (sop); Champs-Elysée O OUTHERE LPH 001 (53:28)

Mahler’s symphonies are a relative newcomer to the period-instrument movement: Roger Norrington’s Hänssler disc is the only alternative to this new one. The main divergence between these historically informed versions and all of the others is the issue of vibrato, particularly in the strings: Both of the orchestras employ little if any; Herreweghe’s string players also use gut strings.

Some listeners may feel, as I do, that there is an astringent tone in the string sound (though that is a positive boon in the second movement’s scordatura passages); this is partially offset by the clarity and directness of the sound as a whole, both instrumentally and in the audio production (provided by the masterly Andreas Neubronner). Detail is exemplary and natural, surpassing most of the competition, SACDs included.

Herreweghe, while happy to enumerate the differences in sound provided by his period orchestra, rightly notes that “we are only too aware of one blatant fact: the essential is elsewhere.” Quite so. In matters of tempo, I have no argument. The first three movements are crisply articulated, with care taken to observe the sometimes deceptively complex tempo changes. The third movement is particularly successful, where the natural balance between winds and strings that Herreweghe mentions in his program note is especially effective. There is enough warmth in the string tone to establish the peaceful opening feeling, while there is ample power in the winds to negotiate the minor-mode darkness and the arrival at heaven’s gates.

The printed timing of the last movement—6: 41—sent up a red flag. Mahler’s own piano roll of the movement was timed at 7:19, and Yvonne Kenny’s recording (once available on Pickwick) is breathless in the extreme; most recordings time out between eight and 10 minutes (Norrington’s is 8:37). Luckily, this proved to be a typo, and Herreweghe accompanies the fresh-sounding and exquisitely characterful Rosemary Joshua at a sensible 8:41 (the total time, as listed in the headnote, is correct).

All together, this is an excellent recording. I prefer it to the Norrington, mostly due to the latter’s characteristically over-hasty tempos and to the less ingratiating sound of his orchestra. Herreweghe’s own attention to Mahler’s sound world (his Wunderhorn disc was reviewed in Fanfare 30:3) has once again paid a handsome dividend.

FANFARE: Christopher Abbot

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: LPH001

  • UPC: 5400439000018

  • Label: Phi

  • Composer: Gustav Mahler

  • Conductor: Philippe Herreweghe

  • Performer: Rosemary Joshua