SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

MAHLER: Symphony No. 4 – Laura Claycomb, soprano/ London Symphony Orchestra/ Valery Gergiev, conductor – LSO Live

Much improved and worth a hearing, though I don’t think we are there quite yet with this conductor.

Published on March 30, 2010

MAHLER: Symphony No. 4 – Laura Claycomb, soprano/ London Symphony Orchestra/ Valery Gergiev, conductor – LSO Live

MAHLER: Symphony No. 4 – Laura Claycomb, soprano/ London Symphony Orchestra/ Valery Gergiev, conductor – LSO Live Multichannel SACD 0662, 54:48 ***1/2 [Distrib. by Harmonia mundi]:

I must admit to some trepidation when this arrived. I’ll let out a secret—the editor likes it. I am not as persuaded, though the experience is not as bad as I was not expecting, nor as good as I hoped (prayed?) for. [Did I say that? I think it's uneven...Ed.]

What I have heard of Gergiev’s Mahler has not been that impressive. In fact, I am not that impressed with anything he has done so far, the hyperbole that surrounds him far too excessive for the product he produces. There have been some exceptions, like his Prokofieff symphonies that I really liked, but the rest have been slim pickings. Mahler is to me definitely not up his alley, though I have heard very good things about his Eighth, and even bought it, though I have not had the chance to listen to it yet.

This fourth is very vanilla in emotional impact, and doesn’t come close to the likes of Szell/Sony, Bernstein/Sony, or especially the recent Concertgebouw/Haitink release on RCO, currently my favorite high-end audio recording, and interpretatively worthy of these others also. The opening of Gergiev’s attempt has been criticized as too measured and almost lethargic, but Mahler marked it as “very leisurely” and that is what we get—blame him, not the conductor. But the measured approach seems to be one that the conductor takes all through the work, sometimes to good effect and others not so good, as when the beautiful theme of the third movement blows by in what has to be a complete tempo misjudgment. The timpani in the coda, marked “ff” in the score, sound like canon-shots at “fffff”, completely dominating the entire orchestra almost to the level of caricature.

The second movement “devil’s violin” doesn’t do the devil justice, as the tempo again is unrelentingly held despite some obvious indications in the phrasing that things should go otherwise. The last movement is well-sung, and even though some believe that Laura Claycomb sang better for MTT in San Francisco, I do not agree—she sounds fine here.

LSO Live has improved its SACD recording process to the point that the orchestra doesn’t always sound like they are playing in a shell, and I was quite pleased with the surround sonics. But a comparison with the Haitink will show what is missing in this recording, and if it is SACD that you want and need, the Concertgebouw is your answer, though there are things in this Gergiev worth hearing. Does this mean, with only two symphonies to go that Gergiev has discovered Mahler? Now that’s a tough one, and in this economy I am not willing to bet. But hope springs eternal…

– Steven Ritter




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