This fine Fourth launches a Mahler Symphony Cycle from the Czech Philharmonic and Semyon Bychkov for Pentatone that now promises much (to include, I hope, Das Lied von der Erde and a complete Tenth?).

Beautifully recorded (August 2020, Rudolfinum, Prague), with wonderful clarity (not least in the basses and for catching the contrabassoon), Bychkov takes the first movement at a leisurely if focussed gait, and with much attention to details and dynamics, played with discernible character and dedication. This opening gemütlich feel is endearing and makes later upheavals the more striking – from pleasant dream to disturbing nightmare – musically vivid in woodwinds, horn solos, and percussion, and what can be a significant pause (here at 10:37-10:39) is suitably pregnant on this occasion.

Throughout, the playing is crisp, agile, sensitive and impeccably together, appropriately edgy in the macabre second movement, with its devilish violin solos, and rapturous in the slow third – idyllic, eloquent, impassioned – concentrated into something special (seductive oboe contributions), the various episodes given full value yet welded into a coherent whole leading to a sumptuous climax and poignant envoi (magical in fact: the studio-condition red light forgotten about) … and, in the attacca Finale, soprano Chen Reiss is angelic as she reports various activities in Heaven as seen through the eyes of a child.

A distinguished start, then, for this Mahler from Prague series – on Pentatone PTC 5186 972 (link below) – a Fourth that can stand comparison with, say, Boulez and Szell (both Cleveland), Kubelík (Bavarian Radio) and Gatti (Royal Philharmonic Orchestra) – they’re the ones that came first to my mind: purely personal.