The first movement begins with sleigh bells, piccolos and other woodwinds followed immediately by what I perceive as a pastoral setting conjured with the string section, which continues throughout the whole symphony.
I imagine: Skating and a snowball fight, as if scenes from the movie “The Bishop’s Wife,” which somehow pops into my mind. Then the tempo builds with a pretty little melody played by the flutes.
I continue to perceive my picturesque study, framed by the oboes, piccolo and flute. Gradually I begin to think of Mahler as being a landscape painter who, with his composer’s brush, paints broad strokes filling the canvas hall with harmony later to be augmented with crisp shapes which take melodic form.
Then a sudden change of tempo, as if on a journey, a tour of the snow covered fields, perhaps then to a village, and then people going too and fro, as the sleigh approaches it’s destination – home.
With the flute I hear – a walk – a journey. Every instrument is used well, they are staggered into the music, reminiscent of the way Ravel wrote his Bolero, yet not like that music, really. I hear a subtle playing, against the dramatic theme.The oboe at the ending is very surprising, pleasantly.
3rd movement: Slow
Another surprise appears, smiling. Slow strings – Cello and violas – then joins the violins – oboes follow and the English horn. Eventually I hear the bassoon, with a beautiful low sound. At length I perceive the harp, playing a selection which at first made me think a piano was on stage, yet it was the harp.
Maestro Honeck raises the ante for a moment, lifting his baton, and the orchestra grows with restrained volume, then continues forward and back to the pastoral sound. The vibrancy continues, then changes again, with melodic pizzicato, with the base, and eventually I hear and see the drums. Again I visualize the composition being painted by Mahler before my eyes and ears, again I perceive each brush stroke being applied to this canvas, never rushing, yet always building, perhaps towards the final movement.
A reprise of the opening movement with melody heard before, and again it joins into another pastoral scene. Soon I hear a melody that reminds me of the music from Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Often in classical music we hear that music is based on the theme of another composer’s work, and I wonder if composer Bernard Herrmann has used these few notes as an inspiration for his composition on that film. Perhaps I’m wrong.
I visualize in my mind’s eye waves splashing, crashing over rocks, I hear the harp, I’m seeing the very essence of this music. I’m completely into this music and its portrayal, and the way that Manfred Honeck is conducting and the beauty that is coming from the PSO directly to my ears.
I would be remiss if I did not congratulate Sunhae Im, soprano, who added one more voice to this symphony, her voice literally added beautifully to the composition, as if another instrument, and did not dominate. This was a good mix, and her tonal quality was equally engaging and not too loud.
In all I’d say that Mahler’s 4th is a symphonic delight which is love at first sight (hearing), and just as with Beethoven’s symphony number 6, will remain one of my favorites for its pleasant pastoral setting.