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31.7.13

Gustav Mahler – Symphony No.3 (Part 2)


This continues "Gustav Mahler — Symphony No.3 (Part 1)"



Mahler wrote his Third Symphony in the summers of 1895 and 1896—having become the ‘summer composer’ only two years before, while finishing the Second Symphony. Unwilling to see himself only as a conductor and opera director rather than a composer, he compared himself to what the great composers before him had achieved at his age (then about 35), and realized that he needed to get cracking.

The Third wasn’t premiered until after the Fourth—1902 in Krefeld at the 38th annual festival of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Musikverein (the General German Music Association founded by Franz Liszt to promote the “New German School” of music). For one, it is even more unwieldy than the Second Symphony before. And the Berlin critics had called Mahler a lunatic, after hearing three excerpted movements a few years earlier, which might not have helped, either. The work is scored for quadruple-everything: flutes, oboes, bassoons, trumpets, trombones and five clarinets, eight horns, two harps, a huge percussion section, alto soloist, women’s choir, boys’ choir, and more strings than most orchestras could muster. The final Adagio alone, never mind the massive 35 minute first movement, is longer than most Haydn symphonies.

It also took so long to get the Third Symphony premiered, because this time around Mahler was not making any compromises. The premiere had to be perfect, or not take place at all. He had to conduct, and he had to get as much rehearsal time as necessary. He wrote Richard Strauss, who, in his position as head of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Musikverein organized the concert and overcame any and all doubts (Mahler’s Fourth had flopped, too), material and financial obstacles to get Mahler whatever he needed.

When it finally was mounted, under the critical and intrigued eyes and ears of his colleagues (apart from Strauss, there were, among others, Eugen D’Albert, Leo Blech, Hermann Bischoff, Max Reger, Felix Weingartner and Hugo Wolf), the whole symphony was a—literally, one might add—smashing, popular success. The orchestra, having overcome its skepticism about this newfangled music, ended up exceeding Mahler’s expectations, and he liked the trombonist so much, he poached him for his Vienna Opera Orchestra.


available at Amazon
Symphony No.3,
C.Abbado / BPh
DG

The symphony itself, with its mix of texts—a Nietzsche poem and folksy Wunderhorn-lyrics—offers endless opportunity to wonder what exactly Mahler had intended. But since Mahler “remain[s] fundamentally opposed to all analyses… good or bad” because “no one can help the audience [which can only help itself] by listening again and again and by reading [the score] again and again”, it might be wise to heed his advice and not analyze, or ‘understand’, but listen and then perhaps to ‘get it’, on an emotional level.

One recording I might esteem even more than Pierre Boulez’ (see Part 1) is Claudio Abbado’s recording from Berlin (DG). After the Seventh, this is surely his best (audio) recording from what might have become a new, live cycle-in-the-making with Berlin, had the Lucerne recordings not superseded it. Atmosphere in spades, warm, passionate playing and conducting, a mezzo with low notes to die for in Anna Larsson (altogether a much earthier animal than von Otter): it is abundantly clear by the end of this performance why the Berlin audience sits in stunned awe before it dare starts applauding. One of the most regularly amusing CD critics has called this a “dismal, wretchedly recorded (live) approximation of Mahler's Third Symphony”, which should not really keep you from exploring it.


available at Amazon
Symphony No.3,
E.P.Salonen / LAPhil
Sony

UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon
Symphony No.3,
R.Kubelik / BRSO
Audite

UK | DE | FR

Similar reasons make Esa Pekka Salonen’s LA Philharmonic recording from 1997 (Sony, liner notes by Tim Page) so attractive. Anna Larsson is a joy to listen to in “Oh Mensch”, Zarathustra’s “Midnight song” by Nietzsche. The sumptuous, clean performance is about as well played as Chailly’s Concertgebouw recording (and as well recorded), but as mentioned, I have found the latter to be clinically detached, despite the superb sound and all the positive reviews heaped on it. Kubelik’s live recording from April 20th 1967 on Audite is a very moving performance—the gingerly played high trumpet notes in the Wunderhorn-referencing Scherzando of the third movement are just (barely, but still) on the right side of dread and accuracy: Appropriate for the grotesquerie of a bucolic postcard-version of nature and the mockery that the animals make of it (“Oxen, taking each other by the hoofs, in a triumphal ring-a-ring-o’ roses” , Adorno).

available at Amazon
Symphony No.3,
Z.Mehta / LAPhil
Decca

UK | DE | FR
Zubin Mehta’s L.A. Philharmonic recording is his other great Mahler on disc: vigorous (Mahler does demand “Kräftig”), even brutal the opening; with extremes accentuated and an element of dread with which Pan is initially being woken. The lighter episodes are sprinkled in between. Valery Gergiev, whose Mahler (LSO Live, SACDLogo_Klein2) is short on idiom and manages to be speedy and occasionally coarse without generating any excitement, turns in a fine Third with a surprisingly tender finale. Then again, no one has yet managed to make that last movement anything but tender.

available at Amazon
Symphony No.3,
M.Tilson Thomas/ SFS
SFS Media


UK | DE | FR
But trying to look for what’s great about Gergiev’s Mahler (and finding a thing or two to cling to) just can’t compare to Michael Tilson Thomas’ 2002 effectual recording (SFS Media, SACDLogo_Klein2) with Michelle DeYoung which establishes very naturally, immediately, that there is greatness at work. A gripping and detailed first and third movement, a moving, moaning Misterioso fourth movement, a superbly singing chorus marvelously caught by the engineers, and a heart-wrenchingly affectionate finale. It’s easily enough for me to rank among the best, and possibly ahead of Salonen, Mehta, and Kubelik. That it also contains DeYoung’s account of the Kindertotenlieder only makes the two-SACD set more attractive. A Grammy nomination for once fully deserved.

available at Amazon
Symphony No.3,
B.Haitink / CSO
CSO Resound

UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon
Symphony No.3,
D.Zinman / Zurich TO
RCA


UK | DE | FR
If MTT’s SACD version is surpassed by a recent recording at all, it’s not Haitink and the CSO (CSO Resound [edit: no longer available in the SACD format]), his debut performance as CSO principal conductor)—which is no more than reasonably touching, although it is played with sincerity, honest passion, and consummate skill. (The soloist is also DeYoung.)

Instead I’d chose David Zinman’s Zurich recording (RCA ,SACDLogo_Klein2); the best from his cycle, so far. Both Haitink and Zinman take an understated approach, but the soft hues that elsewhere hamper Zinman’s Mahler from taking off are applied to greatly moving effect here. His soloist Birgit Remmert is a little dusky, a good fit to the plangent English horn of Martin Frutiger. A symphony with a finale like the Third does not need to be performed-to-impress to bring out the desired, awed effect. [Edit: A strong newcomer is also Markus Stenz / Gürzenich / Michael Schuster, (Oehms,SACDLogo_Klein2), which shall get a more detailed review sometime in the future.)

There are older recordings that are much admired, too. They are not included because they cannot honestly compete with newer, better sounding versions. Rarity and nostalgia have made of a very good interpretation like Horenstein’s, for example, a mythical one. And while any of Mitropoulos’ Mahler should be worth hearing, the only currently available Third, from New York, in English, savagely cut, and in a scrappy performance, is not.



The font used in the title is "Hobo Medium"

Mahler 3 Choices


1. Claudio Abbado, BPh, DG

2. Pierre Boulez, WPh, DG

3. Michael Tilson Thomas, SFS, SFSMedia

4. Esa Pekka Salonen, LA Phil, Sony

5. Rafael Kubelik, BRSO, Audite

5. Mehta, LA Phil, Decca

Mahler 3 SACD Choices


Michael Tilson Thomas, SFS, SFSMedia

David Zinman, Zurich TO, RCA


Find a list of the ex-WETA Mahler Posts here: http://ionarts.blogspot.com/2009/12/mahler-survey.html