Valery Gergiev / London Symphony Orchestra

Mahler: Symphony No. 4

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The potent personal charisma of Valery Gergiev is obviously well-suited to powerhouse classics -- think only of his profoundly savage interpretation of Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps to get an idea of his capacity for ferocity -- but he might not seem on first consideration to be the right conductor for lighter works in the symphonic repertoire, such as the Symphony No. 4 in G major of Gustav Mahler. This joyous work might seem in danger of being brutalized by Gergiev, who has built a major reputation on his explosive recordings of Russian music and has already turned in some harrowing readings in his recordings in Mahler's cycle. But rest assured, Gergiev is a complete musician, and even though his forceful energy has inspired some emotionally shattering performances, his rendition of this work is as delicate, refined, radiant, charming, and happy as any could wish, with humor and grace thrown in for full measure. This hybrid SACD recording for LSO Live is firmly in the mainstream of interpretations, and Gergiev doesn't deviate in any significant way. The emphasis in this performance seems to be placed less on finding some new expression and more on making the symphony sound as clean and detailed as possible. Because the closing movement, "Das himmlische Leben," gives the symphony its dominant blissful character, there is no need to overdo any of the spooky or poignant elements that cast a flitting shadow over the work, and Gergiev pretty much holds the darker passages in check, favoring the symphony's playfulness, even in the Scherzo. Instead, he focuses on drawing out fresh details from the London Symphony Orchestra to make the music as bright and sparkling as possible. With soprano Laura Claycomb's ethereal solo summing up the work, Gergiev's version is certainly one of his sunniest recordings, at least equal to the competition in delivering Mahler's most cheerful symphony. The reproduction is well-matched to the orchestra's clarity, so every note can be heard and numerous instrumental effects are perfectly audible.

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