In a review of the Feb. 2006 concert that featured this Mahler fourth, one review gushed over it as "a miracle of refined music-making." Mackerras, who has been commemorated in a series of CDs on Signum since his death in 2010, was eighty at the time. Beloved in England, he has never struck me as an inspired conductor, but this really is an outstanding performance. It is quick and almost no-nonsense, exactly the wrong approach to Mahler in my mind, and the recordings that fall into the same camp (notably Reiner and Szell) have never appealed to me. But the reviewer hit upon the key word: refinement. The Philharmonia, caught in excellent, detailed sound, adds immeasurably to a sense of alertness and sheer exuberance that fits beautifully with Mackerras's fast tempos in the first two movements. Bucolic, spirited, and delightfully pointed in its phrasing, this is irresistible music-making.
At 21 min. the slow movement isn't quickly paced, but Mackerras keeps to his intention to avoid seriousness and weight. He makes the lovely main theme sound light and meditative at the same time. the Philharmonia strings are really poised, keeping the lyric line moving without sagging and yet very tenderly phrased. In the finale the soloist, soprano Sarah Fox, is unknown to me. Mackerras gives her the right support, with a playful bounce to the rhythms, and she is quite lovely in portraying a child's view of paradise. the tremulousness in her voice is very appealing, and although she is miked a bit too far away, her German diction seems good, too.
In all, this may be the single best recording I've ever heard from Mackerras, and a beautiful addition to the very full catalog of Mahler Fourths.