Benjamin Zander's Telarc recordings of the Mahler: Symphony No. 9(CD-80527) and more recently, the Symphony No. 5 (CD-80569), have been hailed by critics as "searing," "definitive" and "revelatory" for their passionate performances and impeccable adherence to the composer's markings in the score. "...One senses that he has done everything in his power to conduct the score as Mahler would have conducted it," said Fanfare. "Zander understands Mahler in practice as well as theory," said the Sunday Times (London). "The result is exhilarating and often...overwhelming."
Equal praise has been given to Zander's informative, entertaining and generously timed bonus discussion discs. Zander firmly believes that, given some guidance, everybody can understand and come to love great music. "This is fascinating stuff," said the Times, "and even those who know the music well can learn from it."
Here, the conductor joins the ethereal soprano Camilla Tilling (making her recording debut) in a richly detailed performance of the lively Fourth Symphony, whose sunny qualities met with surprised animosity during its first performances in Germany. The very characteristics that Mahler thought might win him greater support—clarity, simplicity, and relative brevity—annoyed his audiences and inspired them to make ugly comments that were often anti-Semitic in nature.
In a letter to a friend, Mahler wrote that he could imagine the most wonderful titles for the movements of this symphony, but would not "betray them to the rabble of critics and listeners" who would subject them to "their banal misunderstandings." The scherzo is the only movement for which we have Mahler's own title: Death Strikes Up. Alma Mahler explained that here "the composer was under the spell of the self-portrait by Arnold Bocklin, in which Death fiddles into the painter's ear while the latter sits entranced."
The final movement of the Fourth Symphony weaves the lovely song Das himmlische Leben (The Heavenly Life) into its orchestral fabric. Mahler finished the song in 1892, taking its lyrics from the collection of German folk poetry called Des Knaben Wunderhorn. In it, the singer tells the listener of domestic details in the heavenly kingdom, where "No worldly tumult is to be heard," and "All live in gentlest peace."
Soprano Camilla Tilling was born in Sweden and studied first at Gothenburg University and then in London at the Royal College of Music. She launched her international opera career in 1999, when she enjoyed enormous success singing the role of Corinna in a new production of Rossini's Il Viaggio a Reims at New York City Opera. She has since made her debut at Covent Garden, and recent and future engagements include appearances at Glyndebourne, Gothenburg, the Aix-en-Provence Festival, and the Metropolitan Opera.
Benjamin Zander began working regularly with the Philharmonia Orchestra in 1995, conducting a series of Mahler symphonies to extraordinary ciritical acclaim. His recordings with the Philharmonia on Telarc include the Mahler Symphonies Nos. 4, 5, and 9, and the Fifth and Seventh Symphonies of Beethoven. Telarc is planning a new recording of Mahler's Sixth Symphony in 2002.