November 03, 2005


Bruckner: Symphony No. 4. Kurt Sanderling conducting Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. Profil. $16.99.

Mahler: Symphony No. 4; Three Songs from “Des Knaben Wunderhorn.” Eva Csapó, soprano; Klaus Tennstedt conducting SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg. Profil. $16.99.

     There are only about 20 years between the fourth symphonies of Bruckner and Mahler, but the symphonies might as well have been written on different planets – for all that Mahler’s symphonies in general owe a great debt to Bruckner’s.  Bruckner’s Fourth, which he himself called the “Romantic,” is his most popular work, perhaps because it is his only one with a title and perhaps because of its extraordinarily effective “Hunting” scherzo.  That movement was actually a replacement, added in the version of 1878-1880 that is most commonly played, as it is by Kurt Sanderling and the Bavarian Radio Symphony.  The original version of Bruckner’s Fourth was completed in 1874 with an entirely different third movement.

     Sanderling’s performance, which dates to 1994, is beautifully structured.  It sounds as if the players are building a sonic cathedral – which is an apt metaphor for all of Bruckner’s towering musical edifices.  From the very quiet opening, to the grand climax of the first movement’s first theme, to the relaxed and Schubertian second theme, Sanderling’s forces offer excellent playing – the soft notes as impressive as the highly effective fortissimo brass.  To mix up the cathedral comparison a bit, this performance ebbs and flows like the tide of a great ocean, sweeping the audience before it.  The balance between horns and strings in the second movement is especially good, and the silences – which are crucial in Bruckner – are exactly right.  The heady scherzo and relaxed trio make a fine contrast, and the horn-string balance is again outstanding in the finale, which sweeps to impressively massed sound at the end.  This is a top-notch rendition.

     Klaus Tennstedt’s 1976 version of Mahler’s Fourth is not quite at this level, but the first three movements, in particular, are very well done indeed.  This symphony startled listeners at its premiere in 1901, and Tennstedt’s very prominent sleigh bells are appropriately startling here.  The entire first movement has more bounce than usual, with fine instrumental balance and color.  The scordatura violin tuning in the scherzo is as effective as always; the horns, especially in the trio, are also handled very well.  The third movement opens very sweetly, with a sound that looks ahead to the strings-only Adagietto of Mahler’s next symphony.  The variations are a touch more episodic than usual, but the movement as a whole flows well nevertheless.  Soprano Eva Csapó is somewhat disappointing in the finale, though.  She sings quite well, but her voice is too rich and full-bodied for this deeply naïve musical portrait of a child’s view of Heaven.  The performance is simply too operatic, making the symphony’s conclusion less effective than it would be with a lighter voice.

     Csapó sounds better in the three “Youth’s Magic Horn” songs included as encores.  Das irdische Leben is as dramatic as can be, sounding especially plaintive when heard immediately after the end of the symphony.  Rheinlegendchen is sweetly bright.  And Wer hat dies Liedlein erdacht? offers a lighthearted conclusion to the CD – though Csapó does have a touch of trouble with breath control in the long and difficult lines that give this ditty its charm.

     The sound on both these Profil CDs is superb – this label certainly gives the conductors it features the best sonic profiles possible.

No comments:

Post a Comment