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Cat. No. CHAN 9836 Price: £0 No. of discs: 1
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CHAN 9836 - Mahler: Symphony No. 4
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Available From: 17 August 2000
In his Fourth Symphony, Mahler returned to the scale of the First and to the conventional scheme of four movements. From the epic world of the Second and Third Symphonies Mahler retained a single soprano for the finale. The orchestra shrank from the vast size of the previous works, though the woodwind and percussion sections remain larger than the norms of the late nineteenth-century symphony. Much of the work’s material is of a deceptive simplicity that has encouraged talk of ‘neo-classicism’, but Mahler also writes in places with a contrapuntal freedom that anticipates the instrumental symphonies.

The Fourth Symphony was not begun until mid-July of 1899, although subject to much thought and imagination in the mid-1890s at which point Mahler saw it as a much larger six-movement work. It was completed in draft the following summer, but its composition was not easy. Mahler continued to revise it in the winter of 1900-01 and worked on aspects of its orchestration long after the first performance and publishing date, even carrying out revisions as late as 1911.

A number of motives serve to link the movements of the work. Most of these derive from the song ‘Das himmlische Leben’ and include the sleighbells with which the work begins. They serve in the first movement as an upbeat to a seemingly straightforward sonata movement in which the theme groups have a Haydnesque simplicity. The form is far from obvious, however, and the sleighbells recur to underline the structural divisions that go rather deeper than a superficial application of a traditional form. In the development further material derived from the song occurs on the flutes as a moment of pastoral calm, pointing clearly to the mood of the finale.

The Fourth Symphony stands at a point where Mahler lost faith in the value of programmatic explanations, but he nonetheless produced a steady stream of images for it in his letters to his friends.

‘Segerstam has provided a fine Mahler Fourth, fully the equal of Chailly’s and Boulez’s recent recordings.’


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