WORKS: Symphony No. 3 in D minor
PERFORMER: Dagmar Pecková (mezzo-soprano); Berlin Radio Choir, Hanover Boys Choir, German SO Berlin/Kent Nagano
CATALOGUE NO: 8573-82354-2
After the last-minute disappointment of Salonen’s otherwise supersonic Mahler Three, listening to each significant new issue of this dangerously multi-faceted colossus has been an adventure. Will the performance, however alert to dynamics and sound effects, be able to pull noble long-term vision out of the bag for the finale? Not everyone thought the gleaming Rattle version did – though I felt that a certain volatility was necessary to cut across the placid hymn to ‘what God tells me’, and Nagano goes for that too. The problem is that his German SO violins and cellos can’t quite match the solidarity and inner light of the truly great orchestral string ensembles. Regret comes earlier than usual, too: mezzo Dagmar Pecková, whose promotion to international status remains a mystery, lacks oracular status as Nietzsche’s midnight muse in the fourth movement, while the women and boys of the ensuing matin song aren’t a patch on Rattle’s exuberant bellringers.
This is a pity, because in the first three movements Nagano, like Rattle and Salonen, shows that there’s no limit to orchestral sophistication as Mahler performances enter the 21st century (his interpretation was recorded live, though you’d rarely guess it from the note-perfect playing, in November 1999). He clips the funeral-march rhythms of rock-solid nature at the start rather curiously, and both the raggle-taggle marchers and rioting forest animals could afford to career out of control; but the gain is that you hear all the competing figures with exemplary clarity – a crystalline vision that’s mirrored by the splendidly tactile engineering. David Nice