Mahler: Symphony No. 3; Bach Suite

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WORKS: Symphony No. 3; Bach Suite
PERFORMER: Petra Lang (mezzo-soprano); Prague Philharmonic Choir, Netherlands Children’s Choir, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly
CATALOGUE NO: 470 652-2
Riccardo Chailly’s Mahler cycle marches towards its completion, and into the SACD era, with his most breathtaking interpretation since a supernaturally beautiful Seventh. Once again the recording plays its part, artfully taking the best from the warm acoustics of the Concertgebouw’s Great Hall to highlight subtle timbres in the woodwind especially and faithfully reflecting Chailly’s concern with textures. Like two of the three other outstandingly engineered Mahler 3s of recent years – Salonen’s on Sony and Tilson Thomas’s on Avie – this one doesn’t quite catch the generous overall span of the soulful last movement (Boulez, believe it or not, Abbado live – both DG – and the more controversial Rattle are the recent forces to be reckoned with here). Yet it is a finale which always blazes when the rock-face of the first movement forces itself upward through fertile earth, and ultimately it does scale the heights – even if there is a hint of the God-squad marching in to counterbalance nature’s revellers earlier in the symphony. Elsewhere Chailly rarely puts a foot wrong on his own terms, which include hyper-elegant Classicism in the second movement, a healthy post-horn serenade in the third and a midnight oracle (the velvety Petra Lang) who registers real sinner’s anguish in the middle of the bell song. Wisely, neither Chailly nor the engineers pretend we are anywhere but in a big concert hall with a lavish orchestra for Mahler’s selection of movements from Bach suites, an odd departure from the more contemporary companion-pieces of previous issues; still, the focus under the circumstances is similarly impressive. David Nice