Mahler: Symphony No. 3

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Symphony No. 3
PERFORMER: Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano); Vienna Singverein, Vienna Boys Choir, Vienna PO/Pierre Boulez
CATALOGUE NO: 474 038-2
As the most picturesque of the Mahler symphonies, the Third might seem the least likely candidate for Boulez’s precise overhauling. So there are many spectacular surprises in store. Having set up the first movement’s marchers so sprucely, Boulez really goes to town with them in an exuberant central riot, and his previously fast-moving, old-guard trombone fades away more hauntingly than on any version I’ve heard: the death of tragedy, perhaps? At the same time, the fastidious ear of the composer-as-conductor is always at work, making sure the hard-to-articulate march triplets, the trills and the tremolos are all exactly as Mahler wrote them, and the recording (also available in SACD, DG 474 298-2) serves him faithfully.

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As the Symphony moves away from its ever-amazing sonic novelty and towards a very 19th-century kind of heaven, heart and soul at Boulez’s no-nonsense pace are capably supplied by the strings of the Vienna Philharmonic. It’s a muscular-Christian victory that’s ultimately assured after all the well-gauged shocks and buffets of the finale, but a grand apotheosis it unmistakably remains. Of the intermediate visions, von Otter’s warm, humane mezzo captures more poetry than the very military posthorn serenade, where a C from an on-stage brass player seems to have been belatedly pasted over the original. But that’s a unique aberration in such a clear, original and, yes, charming interpretation.

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A lighter, tighter proposition than the more consciously imposing monuments of Rattle and Bernstein, and much closer to the recent Abbado performance on the same label, it deserves a special place in the sun. David Nice