WORKS: Symphony No. 3
PERFORMER: Cornelia Kallisch (alto); EuropaChorAkadamie, Freiburg Cathedral Boys Choir, SWR SO, Baden-Baden & Freiburg/Michael Gielen
CATALOGUE NO: CD 93.017
In a thoughtful if not always transparent essay for the CD booklet, conductor Michael Gielen invokes Robert Musil’s epic novel The Man Without Qualities to convey the essence of Mahler’s saintly finale, quoting at length the hero’s glimpse of ‘a hidden state’ in which ‘we see that things are “made of love”’. Gielen’s interpretation really does make the hidden manifest. While younger conductors like Salonen and Nagano suggest a mere impersonation of a great slow movement, this is the real thing; in no other performance are the three traumatised returns to the bedrock of faith more movingly achieved. Gielen, like Rattle in Birmingham, works miracles with his modest strings. Indeed, the playing throughout, save for the inevitable rough edges of a live recording and coarsening trumpets at the end, is of an astonishingly high level. Not everyone will appreciate the steady tempo for the first movement, though the layers here remind us that a god is at the heart of the procession, with the raucousness on the fringes. Less easy to justify are the third movement’s politely stomping animals and the slightly cautious bell-song of the fifth, in both of which Rattle excels; yet Gielen’s is always a deeply reasoned performance.
The companion-pieces, recorded ten years earlier, constitute a provocative montage. The Rosamunde dances tread carefully on the heels of the Webern pieces with which they are interlaced, where pinpricks of sound benefiting from studio silence are somehow aptly echoed by Schubert’s woodwind writing. There are more questions here than answers, but that’s as it should be. David Nice