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RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR

September

‘The final stanza of the finale is truly balm, pure and unaffected, like so much that makes this performance special ’

Edward Seckerson hears Mahler’s Fourth Symphony with fresh ears thanks to this superlative recording from Les Siècles and François-Xavier Roth

Mahler Symphony No 4 Sabine Devieilhe sop Les Siècles / François-Xavier Roth Harmonia Mundi (HMM90 5357 • 55’ • T/t)

I absolutely adored this performance. No equivocation. Hearing the music as Mahler might have heard it – and indeed imagined it – both in the very particular sound of period instruments and the extraordinary impact that has on phrasing and expression makes it sound more radical in ways that the supersonic amplitude of today’s orchestras tends to obscure. Put simply, we have grown so accustomed to lushness, to spectacle, to overprojection in Mahler’s music (and especially in this piece) that phrasing is too often sacrificed to opulence as a means of expression. Let’s be clear, vibrato is no substitute for a sensitively shaped phrase, rubato is no more effective because it is more broadly applied, and portamento isn’t something cosmetic to be ladled on like a special effect but rather a means of expression that is integral to the phrasing.

It is true that exaggeration is a key part of Mahler’s armoury. In taking all the trappings of the Austro-German symphonic tradition and pushing them to the nth degree he was in essence melding past with future in dramatically progressive ways. But the Fourth was perhaps his most concerted attempt at writing a classical symphony through the prism, if you like, of his own romantic nature, and though it is full of ‘special effects’, of ‘off the spectrum’ innovation and surprise, it still projects a Viennese elegance, poise and, yes, innocence.

22 GRAMOPHONE GRAMOPHONE RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR 2022

What registers immediately in Roth’s reading – and the deliciously honest playing of his band Les Siècles – is an open-faced, playful nature. By virtue of its deft phrasing and articulation there is an immediate focus and transparency in the sound. The pacing of the first movement is fleet-footed and imperative without ever sounding pressed, corners are deftly turned (rubato indications PHO T O G R A P H Y

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