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25.8.07

Internet Flies on the Wall of Royal Albert Hall

Mahler Third Symphony:
available at Amazon
A. S. von Otter, Vienna Philharmonic, P. Boulez (2003)


available at Amazon
A. Larsson, Berlin Philharmonic, C. Abbado (live, 1999)


available at Amazon
A. Larsson, L.A. Philharmonic, E.-P. Salonen (1998)
Abbado in Lucerne:

available at Amazon
Mahler 2, A. Larsson (2003)


available at Amazon
Mahler 5 (2004)


available at Amazon
Mahler 6 (2006)


available at Amazon
Mahler 7 (2005)
Gustav Mahler's third symphony is the latest in Claudio Abbado's Lucerne Festival cycle. Abbado and his hand-picked orchestra from the Lucerne Festival traveled to London, to perform Mahler's third at the Proms on Wednesday night. That performance has been made available, for a week, by Internet broadcast at the BBC Web site (unfortunately, requiring RealPlayer). It is certainly not as good as hearing the concert live, but it sure beats merely reading a review (in The Times and The Guardian, both rapturous). Jens has recommended two recordings of Mahler's third: Pierre Boulez with with the Vienna Philharmonic, with Anne Sofie von Otter singing the crucial solo part, and the live recording by Claudio Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic. Abbado returned to the same singer for the Lucerne Festival performance, the exquisite contralto Anna Larsson. David Zinman also worked with her in his recent recording of Mahler 2 with the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich (review forthcoming), and her loamy, rich voice is ideally suited to the voice of Life calling to Zarathustra in the fourth movement ("O Mensch! Gib acht!").

Mahler conceived the symphony as a revelation of wonder as a soul becomes aware of the splendor of creation, beginning with the inanimate rocks and moving through the flowers, animals, and other mysteries, ending with love. The first movement, longer than many earlier entire symphonies and constituting by itself the work's first part (balanced by the other five movements as the second), is a sprawling tableau that also, according to Mahler at other times, depicted the birth of Pan and a Bacchic ritual. As expected, Abbado guided the Lucerne players through an expansive reading, with raspy and incisive solos from horns, muted trumpet, posthorn. Much has been made of Abbado's charismatic assembling of the Lucerne group, combining the finest principals from various orchestras under his baton with the core of his Mahler Chamber Orchestra. The following part of Tom Service's interview with Abbado for The Guardian should be required reading for American orchestra management and players:
You know, in America, there are wonderful orchestras everywhere, but I never accepted a position there, because I can't fight with the unions. [...] The terrible thing is that the players of orchestras like that, they finish the rehearsal not because the music is finished, but because the time is finished.
The second movement was a field of luminescent and delicately petaled flowers, and the third evoked the frolicking of animals in the countless wind solos especially, all beautifully played. The posthorn in the distance, a voice of human intrusion, was dreamy and hazy, if not always perfectly in tune with the orchestra. The success of a Mahler 3 performance hinges on the fourth movement, the luxuriant, revelatory setting of Nietzsche's (drunken) Midnight Song. I had never made the connection before, but the wailing call that opens the movement and recurs thematically throughout, a glissando upward, may be what is behind the mysterious "whale call" that plays a structural role in Edgard Varèse's Poème électronique. Anna Larsson, whom we last heard live as Fricka in the Fura dels Baus Ring cycle in Florence, rang out prophetically but also caressed every phrase and phoneme of what is essentially an extended accompanied recitative. Like so many of the themes of the third symphony, that ultimately serious moment is immediately contrasted by the joyous, folksy, tintinnabulatory fifth movement, which combines the choruses (children and women's voices) with the soloist on a poem from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Then Love speaks to Mahler, in a poignant song without words. Mahler fans everywhere should look forward to this Lucerne Festival performance to be released on DVD later this year.

Also, make sure to read the tributes to Abbado, by musicians in the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, at the end of Tom Service's interview.

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