M4 Gatti Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

by Glenn on December 6, 2014

Cover of Daniele Gatti's recording of Mahler 4 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Returning to this recording is like putting on an old, favorite sweatshirt. It is so comfortable. The pacing of the opening movement is wonderful. Daniele Gatti is masterful with the many stops and starts and tempo changes. This movement can feel rushed or plodding. Gatti knows when to step on the gas and when to pull back. Abrupt changes seem spontaneous. Surely they rehearsed, but nothing feels mannered.

The challenge of the third movement is to take a relaxed tempo but keep the right amount of tension. The music needs to breathe, but you don’t want to lose a sense of forward progress. My notes from a previous listening say, “The glory of this recording is the adagio. It’s masterful. The tone of the RPO is glorious. Beautiful glissandi.”

Everything leads up to the fourth movement and the soprano* soloist makes or breaks a Mahler 4 recording. Ruth Ziesak does not disappoint. The tone is forward and the singing intimate. She is not my favorite soloist for this symphony—Sylvia McNair has those honors—but she is very good. When I listened to this in the summer of 2013 I wrote, “impressive—but where is the fire?” This time through, I didn’t have the same reaction to the tempo.

The principals are great and the tone of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is gorgeous. If I were to quibble with anything, I might wish for a slightly less resonant acoustic for the recording.

Four early Mahler songs are included on this recording. They are a bonus and a beautiful way both to round out the recording and to extend the flavor of the symphony’s final movement a little longer. The final song, “Nicht wiedersehen!,” gives you a glimpse of what would be possible later for Mahler—creating an affecting moment with a song. It’s soulful and charming. But you find yourself thinking, “Oh, just wait and see what he does with ‘Um Mitternacht.’”

The recording is available here.

*Leonard Bernsteing tried a boy soprano in one of his M4 recordings. His rationale was good—a child’s view of heaven? Why not have an actual child sing? It didn’t work for me.