Mahler: Symphony No. 3

LABELS: Chicago Symphony Orchestra
WORKS: Symphony No. 3
PERFORMER: Michelle DeYoung (mezzo-soprano); Women of the Chicago Symphony Chorus; Chicago Children’s Choir; Chicago SO/Bernard Haitink
This first official meeting between the slickest of American orchestras and the most reflective of European conductors, the CSO’s new principal, yields much healthier results than Haitink’s last live Mahler recordings, made in France. With decades of experience, and this most experimental Mahler symphony as one of his most distinctive calling-cards, no inflection or nuance in the score passes unremarked. The control of the marching hordes in the first movement is surely deliberate – jaunty and spruce without the threat of anarchy just around the corner – while the flora and fauna of minuet and scherzo blend ideal delicacy and rudeness. CSO woodwind especially respond well to the day-glo colours required, though the posthorn solo deep in the forest isn’t the most innocent, and the admirable principal trombone can’t banish a recent impression from BBC Symphony principal Helen Vollam in Blohlávek’s live Barbican performance (surely a candidate for CD release).


After the resonant humanity of Michelle de Young and the spirited blend of feisty ladies and rude boys, the passion-play finale presents the ultimate challenge. The Chicago strings, closely though not distractingly recorded, don’t quite equal some of their European counterparts. But Haitink knows how to pace this great Adagio; the agonised climaxes and serene resolution here are second to none. Abbado, already supreme with the Berlin Philharmonic, may produce even finer things with his Lucerne Festival Orchestra later this year. In the meantime, Haitink fans shouldn’t hesitate to hear his latest thoughts. A shame the graphics of the orchestra’s new label are so undistinguished. David Nice