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CD Review

Gustav Mahler

Symphony #4

Netania Devrath, soprano
Utah Symphony Orchestra/Maurice Abravanel
Vanguard Classics OVC4007
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The Utah Symphony Orchestra is not an ensemble that most listeners would associate with Mahler, but in fact they recorded the composer's complete symphonies in the 1960s and 1970's. In the face of superior technical achievements from orchestras all over the world, these performances have been mostly forgotten. However, this 4th Symphony is arguably the highlight of the entire cycle and deserves to be heard and cherished by serious Mahler fans.

No, the orchestra does not feature the most beautiful tone, nor an especially weighty string or brass section. But how much character do those woodwinds have! Also, the pacing and cogency are beyond reproach, and you have to marvel at how personal a vision this is. This isn't an orchestra simply trying to jump on the Mahler bandwagon (ahem, Vienna and Berlin Philharmonics). Rather, this is a true artistic partnership between conductor and orchestra where everything that can go right does. The Scherzo is watery sounding, but again so full of personal touches and character that it's hard to resist. In the Adagio, the orchestra struggles a bit with the slow tempo – the string tone is not well sustained – but the commitment is never in doubt. Utah sounds taxed, where Berlin would simply be sleepy. The final outburst is spectacular, with the brass getting their act together at the very end. The Finale brings it all home; Netania Devrath has just the right mix of wonder and childlike awe without having to actually be a boy tenor.

The point of this review is not to prove some kind of superiority in Utah over Berlin. It simply doesn't exist, then or now. But what we do have is an exceptional Mahler performance outside of the big names. You can get this performance from Vanguard or Musical Concepts, with different couplings, or even the entire cycle. I like the 2nd, and hear the 7th and 8th are also very fine. But if you're sick of the usual in Mahler, you have to give some of these performances a try.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman

Trumpet