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Mahler: Symphony No. 4 - Tilson Thomas

Mahler: Symphony No. 4 - Tilson Thomas

San Francisco Symphony  821936-0004-2

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Mahler: Symphony No. 4

Laura Claycomb (soprano)
San Francisco Symphony
Michael Tilson Thomas (conductor)


The SFS and MTT present Mahler's Symphony No. 4, recorded live at Davies Symphony Hall in the concerts of September 24-28, 2003. Mahler's Fourth is the most tuneful and upbeat of his symphonies. Its gloriously expansive slow movement offers a picture of heavenly terrain and its vocal finale, with soprano Laura Claycomb, is as freshly innocent as a folk tune.

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Review by John Broggio - January 22, 2009

A frustrating release.

Tilson Thomas is absolutely fantastic at getting the San Francisco Symphony to realise individual details when he so desires. The problem here is that he doesn't always seem to request them (far too many pp or quieter markings are seemingly ignored for fear of sacrificing rich tone) or balancing them appropriately against the melodies or within the context of the phrase as a whole. There is no excuse for Tilson Thomas to ignore these aspects as Mahler is meticulous in notating his scores, concert performance or not - he knew what he wanted to hear and how to mark the parts appropriately to get the sound. Thus points meant to colour or accompany a melody suddenly become the object of focus which seriously distorts the musical line.

The San Francisco Symphony always play neatly with a full, rich tone, although the second point is not always a good thing. Sadly, Laura Claycomb sounds older than her years with such a wide vibrato that really is not pretty. Tilson Thomas is also one of the slowest on disc, taking a full 5 minutes longer than Haitink in the slow movement and there is not enough tension to sustain such a tempo - I suspect it works far better in concert than on disc.

The sound is good and the audience is largely very well behaved (there are the odd audible suppressed coughs although applause is not retained) but there are far better accounts from Haitink or Nott.

In summary, there is much detail to be heard here but little other than glimpses at the "bigger picture" - this approach might work better in the 7th symphony where there are more details than epic visions.

Copyright © 2009 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

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Comment by threerandot - July 7, 2016 (1 of 2)

Review by threerandot March 13, 2008
Performance: 5
Sonics: 5 (MCH)

MIchael Tilson Thomas and The San Francisco Symphony give an unforgettable and what could be for many, a definitive performance of Mahler's Fourth Symphony.

I don't believe I have ever heard a more moving and deeply penetrating performance of this Mahler Symphony before. Thomas is not simply content to read the score. I sense that he has spent a great deal of time probing the depths of this music to get to the "essense" of this symphony.

Deeply felt, committed and profound are words that can easily be used to describe Thomas's approach. Most profound of all, is the reading of the third movement. There is a spiritual and transcendental quality and Thomas is never afraid to punctuate the climaxes. He pushes the San Fransisco players and your system!

The San Francisco Symphony prove to be an extemely gifted group of musicians who know this music technically and spiritually. Listen for the woodwinds throughout this recording, exquisitely played. And those oboes in third movement are outstanding! Laura Claycomb is a moving soloist with a wonderfully lyric voice in the finale.

The recording team are to be commended as well. The recording has a big, wide dynamic range and the instrument placement is excellent. The audience is nowhere to be heard, so there are no coughs or gasps to disrupt your enjoyment of this rapturous reading.

After hearing this recording, I am going to collect all of the recordings of Thomas and the SFS in this cycle. I listen to all of my SA-CDs in Multichannel and this is an amazing experience! This is simply a disc not to be missed. Fantastic!

I would also like to mention the impressive packaging of this disc. It contains an outer cardboard box which holds a traditional compact disc Jewel Case, (no rounded corners) and an impressive and lavish inner booklet with notes on the music, as well the SFS and the text to the fourth movement of the Symphony. Strangely, there are no notes on the soloist, Laura Claycomb. An impressive package which adds to the overall presentation.

(This review refers to the Multichannel portion of this disc.)

Comment by Tekrad - September 16, 2017 (2 of 2)

As I listen to more and more versions of Mahler 4, I realize that I am more interested in the subtle and rich versions available. I started with Gergiev/LSO and initially was drawn to the brash excitement. As my taste evolved, the excitement faded. Unfortunately, those recordings are a bit short on the sweet and emotional sides of these pieces. Another detractor for this version is the awful recording quality on not only the MCH, but the RBCD version as well.

I then turned to the Fischer cycle, and there is where I discovered the delicateness that was missing from Gergiev versions. The MCH recording was much improved over the Gergiev/LSO version. I repeatedly find on both of those versions, that although the pp and super-quiet passages might be true to the composer's intention, I can often find them frustratingly TOO quiet.

Finally, I found the total package in the MTT/SFO cycle. Richness and emotionality with quiet passages bumped up a bit in volume. It's almost as if the conductor feels the same way about the super-quiet passages - and embellishes them to make them a little more approachable. Purists might vehemently disagree with me, but I try to remain objective and look for the entertainment value in my search for pleasing interpretations.

MTT is now conducting the New World Symphony in Miami Beach. I look forward to his approach to Mahler's 9th this Winter 2017.