MAHLER: Symphony No. 4 in G
Luba Orgonásová, soprano; Zurich Tonhalle Orch/David Zinman, cond.
RCA RED SEAL SACD 16852 TT: 57:21
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MAHLER: Symphony No. 6 in A minor "Tragic."
London Symphony Orch/Valery Gergiev, cond.
LSO LIVE SACD LSO0661 TT: 77:11
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MAHLER: Symphony No. 6 in A minor "Tragic."
Chicago Symphony Orch/Bernard Haitink, cond.
CSO RESOUND SACD 901807 (2 disks) TT: 90:41
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Of this trio of Mahler recordings surely the prize is David Zinman's superb Symphony No. 4. Recorded November 13-15, 2006 in Zurich's Tonhalle, Trygve Nordwall was producer, Chris Hazell recording producer, with Simon Eadon as sound engineer. They have captured this resplendent performance in rich sound, using rear channels to increase presence in a most natural way. Soprano Luba Orgonasova's voice is sublime in the final movement, and has been recorded in perfect balance with the orchestra. This is an outstanding recording, the finest so far in Zinman's Zurich Mahler series.

There already are six (!) SACD issues of Mahler's Symphony No. 6: Claudio Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic (see REVIEW); Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony (see REVIEW); Mariss Jansons with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (see REVIEW), Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra (see REVIEW), Benjamin Zander with the Philharmonia Orchestra (see REVIEW), and Christoph Eschenbach and the Philadelphia Orchestra (see REVIEW). Both from interpretive and sonic standpoints the two new versions disappoint compared with those previously released. Both of the newcomers were recorded live, the Gergiev from concerts in London's Barbican Hall in November 2007, Haitink's in Chicago's Orchestra Hall edited from four performances in October 2007. Both venues are problematic for recording engineers, and as microphones are close-up to avoid audience sound, there is limited resonance, and low bass has little impact—even the hammer blows (which should be a terrifying effect) amount to little. Lately Haitink has enjoyed a close relationship with the CSO; in 2006 he was appointed principal guest conductor, and his live recording of Mahler's Symphony No. 3 with that orchestra has already been issued. Haitink recorded Symphony No. 6 in 1969 for Philips with the Concertgebouw and recently made another recording in France, not issued in surround format. Haitink's 1969 recording was about 81 minutes; this CSO version is 90:41 (!)—the longest ever recorded, so long it takes two disks, although there is no additional charge for the second. There's not much excitement here, which surely cannot be said of Gergiev's dynamic and sometimes erratic reading. And Gergiev, sometimes a rather perverse conductor, elects to end the scherzo with double basses instead of soft timpani. Both orchestras play very well indeed, but neither of these would be my choice for a recording of this symphony. You might wish to investigate Eduard van Beinum's live 1955 performance with the Concertgebouw, which clocks in at about 73 minutes. It has been reviewed on this site (see REVIEW).

R.E.B. (April 2008)

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