Mahler: Symphony No. 3 in D minor

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Mahler: Symphony No. 3 in D minor
PERFORMER: Michelle DeYoung (mezzo-soprano); Mendelssohn Choir & Children’s Festival Chorus of Pittsburgh; Pittsburgh SO/Manfred Honeck
CATALOGUE NO: Exton OVCL 00450 (hybrid CD/SACD)

Mahler knew that he’d gone completely over the top in his Third Symphony and looked forward gleefully to the offence it would cause. Of course there’s a lot more to the Third Symphony than critic-baiting. Hearing Claudio Abbado or Mariss Jansons in the final Adagio one can be startled both by how nobly moving it is and how successfully this outrageously variegated score reaches a satisfying conclusion. But it’s also good to hear a performance like this that relishes the cinematic splendour, the riotous richness of colour and the glorious improbability of its contrasts. It’s a long time since I’ve heard a new recording of the immense first movement that made it feel so short.
There are many glorious things here: the ethereally distant posthorn in the Scherzo, or the sudden eruption of raw elemental power at the end of the movement. Michelle DeYoung’s ‘O Mensch!’ is suitably mesmerising, and the children’s ‘Bimm, bamm’ bell effects in the fifth movement are splendidly lacking in Anglo-Saxon embarrassment. The recording captures everything with vivid fidelity. Though the final slow movement is far from cold, the spaciousness does intermittently undermine the sense of slow steady flow to the final tutti.
Abbado and Jansons both pace this movement better and dig deeper, emotionally. But elsewhere, Abbado errs a little too much on the side of good taste. It’s Jansons, among the moderns, who comes closest to the Golden Mean. Still this is a remarkably creditable effort, and it certainly pulls out the stops at the end. Stephen Johnson