LSO Valery Gergiev | Mahler Symphony No. 4

The Fourth Symphony is perhaps the most familiar of the nine Mahler symphonies. It has as its final movement a setting of a poem taken from the collection ‘Des knaben Wunderhorn’ of which Mahler was so fond. ‘Das himmlische Leben’ (‘Heavenly Life’) was deferred business for Mahler – the song had originally been composed some seven years earlier and Mahler considered it as a finale for his Third Symphony, until he recognised it as core material for an entirely new symphony.

Composed between 1899 and 1901 (and subject to constant revision after that) Mahler’s Fourth is certainly the most buoyant in spirit of the nine. Its instrumentation, while respectably large for a symphony of the time, is a long way from the imposing forces, or indeed the depth and darkness, of the Third.

Though the Fourth is predominantly light in character – and famously opens with sleigh bells – Mahler finds room for dark whimsy, particularly in the second movement which features a skeleton playing a danse macabre on a violin. The third movement - a set of variations marked ‘poco adagio’ - was inspired by a tombstone engraving, according to the composer.

Gergiev’s tempi are much in line with those of other versions, with the exception of the third movement, which he takes a little quicker than some. Instinctively, he shows that the impact of the all-important fourth movement is greatest when its delivery verges on the nonchalant - it is a setting of a folk poem, after all, and it imparts a feeling of short-lived contentment to the symphony’s closing moments, until the sound trails away and the harmony is left unresolved.

The performance profits from some marvellous solos by flautist Gareth Davies and oboist Emanuel Abbühl, two of the many delightful songbirds in this Mahler forest. The soprano in this recording is the very fine Laura Claycomb, who achieves just the right balance of expressivity and innocence Mahler calls for.

James Mallinson, LSO Live Producer

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