Royal PO's performance is outstanding in many ways. Menuhin has deep understanding of Elgar's music and its innermost yearning. Every movement displays his genuine affinity with the inspiration and characterisation of the music. Tempi are perfectly judged throughout, the famous 9th variation Nimrod, for example, is neither too fast nor too slow, achieving maximum grandeur and dramatic effect without losing forward momentum. The fast variations are bursting with energy and verve, the slow variations are played with amazing subtlely and heart warming intimacy. The additional organ in the last variation amplifies the scale of the monumental finale.
The ten symphonies of Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) have sometimes been likened to a great autobiographical novel, each symphony constituting a chapter in itself while at the same time being an integral part of an unfolding narrative. Within this narrative flow, the fourth symphony (1899-1900) represents a magical pool of tranquility. Mahler drew on various sources in his symphony, one of them being Das himmlische Leben (1892). He originally intended this to be an independent song, but then had ideas of making it the finale of his giant third symphony before ultimately transferring it to his fourth. The song is a naïve vision of the joys of heaven seen through the eyes of a child; the symphony is, as a result, Mahler's most optimistic and relaxed. Here the work is presented by the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra, led by conductor Leif Segerstam.
If you can get past the 1940s monaural sound (and if you are not already familiar with this performance, you will get a shock). This is the gentlest, most right sounding rendition I have ever heard. The tempi are uncommonly brisk, though they never sound that way. The third movement has never sounded more beautiful. Halban is perfect in the finale. Walter passed away before he could record this work in stereo. His later performances were very different and I'm still not sure whether or not his later slower tempos and even greater expression were an improvement.
This CD accompanied BBC Music Magazine Vol. 25 No. 9. In our June issue, we enjoy an exclusive interview with Sir Mark Elder as the Hallé’s conductor turns 70 and present a free cover CD of the orchestra performing Nielsen’s Symphony No. 4, ‘The Inextinguishable’.