Classical Music Home

Welcome to Naxos Records

Keyword Search
 Classical Music Home > Naxos Album Reviews

Album Reviews

See latest reviews of other albums...

Brian Buerkle
American Record Guide, September 2010

This new Fourth finds the orchestra in excellent form...Artek’s recording is generally excellent...

Christopher Abbot
Fanfare, September 2010

Gerard Schwarz’s Mahler symphony cycle continues with this performance of the Fourth. According to Elmar Oliveira at Artek, it was recorded in concert in 2002 (there is no date on the CD). However, an earlier release on Classico of the same symphony with this orchestra was released in 2004; it doesn’t document the performance herein reviewed because the soloist on that occasion was Rosa Mannion. (To complicate matters further, the earlier Classico release of the First is duplicated on the Artek set of symphonies 1 and 9.) Whatever the reason for the remake, this is the most appealing of Schwarz’s Mahler that I’ve heard.

Schwarz adopts a comfortable principal tempo in the first movement, while subsequently varying the pace in keeping with the somewhat impetuous character of this interpretation, which also has its dreamy moments. The dark cloud that interrupts the sunny proceedings, giving the foretaste of the Fifth Symphony’s opening fanfare, is soon dispelled; there is nothing even remotely anxiety-producing here. The second movement features a distinctly wheedling solo violin, and the winds have a nice sarcastic edge. The Trios are relaxed and imbued with a nostalgic yearning. The principal horn is very prominent and is a carping presence throughout the movement...There is a comparatively long pause between the third and the final movements, so the marked contrast between the ethereal last measures of the former and the agogic opening of the latter is lost. Maureen Mackay has a most engaging and light-toned voice; her recitation of the text is animated and expressive...This is a very accomplished performance, and the sound is first-rate; admirably clear instrumental definition is complemented by excellent bass and percussion reproduction., May 2010

Gerard Schwarz’s Mahler Fourth—also recorded live—is not at this rarefied level, but it is one of the better entries in the Mahler cycle that Schwarz is currently producing with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. Simply from the point of view of tempos, Schwarz tends to go in the direction opposite Norrington’s: this is a leisurely Fourth, running almost a full hour. It does not drag, though, because once he selects tempos, Schwarz stays true to them; and the ones he picks help him bring out the naïve and bucolic qualities of the symphony—which is filled with them. The sleigh bells in the first movement give the impression of a wintertime country scene here, and the musical conflicts of the movement are not harsh but more like those of natural forces. The second movement, with its scordatura solo violin, sounds like something out of folk stories: Death may be present, but in the comparatively companionable form of a fairy-tale character rather than the terrifying one of other Mahler symphonies. The slow (sometimes quite slow) variations of the third movement wind unerringly upward in a subtly balanced performance that emerges into real splendor when the gates of Heaven open at the movement’s climax. Once through those gates, though, there is a bit of a letdown, for soprano Maureen Mackay’s singing in the finale is a touch too breathy and a little too emphatic for Mahler’s extremely innocent, childlike setting of the “Heavenly Life” song from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (whose short text Artek really should have provided in this CD’s booklet). The very simplicity of this movement makes the vocal line extremely difficult to deliver effectively—Bernstein famously had it sung by a boy soprano, who almost made up in purity what he lacked in technique. Mackay has a bit too much technique to put across the childlike wonder of the whole scene to which the symphony builds. As a whole, though, this Mahler Fourth is a very satisfying one.

Blair Sanderson, May 2010

Among modern performances of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 in G major that have a semblance of authentic Viennese style, Gerard Schwarz’s live presentation with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic is a good example, with lilting rhythms, flexible tempos, and buoyant expressions that are strongly linked to that tradition. All this might seem a little hard to accomplish with an American conductor and an English orchestra, but it goes to show that Vienna is as much a state of mind as it is a real place with a famous musical identity. In this recording, the Symphony No. 4 often feels swept up in a dance, or a series of dance-like sections, largely because Mahler’s basic rhythmic impulses and Schwarz’s rubato and sense of phrasing lend themselves easily to a dance interpretation, whether the beat is counted in 3/4 time or not. This lightness of movement, as well as its graceful feeling, count in this performance’s favor…soprano Maureen Mackay’s radiant singing of “Das himmlische leben” is heard in the Finale.

John J. Puccio
Classical Candor, April 2010

The Fourth Symphony of Gustav Mahler (1860–1911) is today probably the composer’s most-popular symphony, and, thanks to a revival of the composer’s work in the Fifties and Sixties, one of the world’s most-popular pieces of classical music. One can understand why: Along with the First, it’s the shortest of the symphonies Mahler wrote (even though it’s about an hour long); it’s scored lightly, making for a most-transparent sound; and it features some lovely, lilting melodies envisioning Man’s glimpses of heaven. How can it miss?

Under Maestro Gerard Schwarz, the first movement is sweet and lyrical, with a pleasantly flowing gait, even though the conductor tends to speed up and slow down more suddenly than he needs to. This more-than-flexible rubato, combined with Schwarz creating some pronounced dynamic contrasts, adds a degree of admitted excitement to the proceedings, but one could argue that the music doesn’t really need it. Mahler’s markings indicate “deliberate and leisurely,” and the movement should convey a feeling of simplicity, which Schwarz misses to some small degree.

In the second movement, also marked with “leisurely motion,” Schwarz takes Mahler more at his word. It’s not a particularly big change of tempo from the preceding movement, but the tone changes considerably. It’s now more shrill, introducing us to death and the devil. Mahler never meant the music to be scary, just a little odd, and it’s here that Schwarz is at his best, molding a slightly sinister yet reassuring mood.

The third movement Adagio, marked “peacefully,” is among Mahler’s most heartfelt, yet Schwarz draws it out perhaps more than necessary, overly relying on the sentimentality of the piece.

Then, we come to the fourth and final movement, a vision of heaven as expressed in one of Mahler’s favorite folk poems from the collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn (“The Child’s Wonderful Horn,” or cornucopia of plenty). Soprano Maureen McKay sings the youth’s part most affectively, with, in the composer’s words, “childlike, serene expression, always without parody”; and Schwarz brings the symphony to a joyous conclusion. My only quibble here is that the recurring sleigh bells, returning from the first movement, burst forth rather vigorously and tend to distract from the serenity of the music.

Artek recorded the sound live at Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, and although I have never been too keen on live recordings, this one is quite good, with an especially nice sense of orchestral depth. Be aware, however, that the engineers miked the orchestra at a moderate distance, a little more distant than they would have miked the group in a studio, resulting in an occasionally recessed sound.

Thankfully, there is very little audience noise involved, with the exception of a few strange thumps and bumps in the background. The recording also displays a wide stereo spread and fairly clean delineation. A final quibble, though: The orchestra tends at times almost to swamp the soloist in the final movement.

For me Schwarz fills his performance of the Mahler Fourth with a few too many flourishes and overstatements. While the reading is certainly lively and vital, it does not persuade me that this is how Mahler intended his symphony to sound. I prefer the more straightforward approaches of Bernard Haitink in his second, analogue Concertgebouw recording (Philips) and George Szell in his Cleveland rendition (Sony).

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group