Mahler: Symphony No. 3 (Gurzenich/Roth)

Gürzenich-Orchester Köln/François-Xavier Roth, et al (Harmonia Mundi)

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Symphony No. 3
Sara Mingardo (contralto); Women’s choir of Schola Heidelberg; Young singers of Cologne Cathedral; Gürzenich-Orchester Köln/François-Xavier Roth
Harmonia Mundi HMM 905314.15   93:29 mins (2 discs)

Orchestral standards in Mahler continue to rocket under inspirational conductors, and this month sees two high watermarks in recordings of the symphonies: Iván Fischer’s Budapest Seventh, and François-Xavier Roth’s Third with the venerable German institution which was partly responsible for the work’s triumphant world premiere in Krefeld, the Gurzenich Orchestra of Cologne. This crack team has already had the advantage of a highly original cycle with its previous chief conductor, Markus Stenz, and while I felt that Roth wasn’t quite at the same level in the Fifth, he goes at the crazy world of the Third with all wind and brass guns blazing. Not for this team the Olympian view of Haitink and the Bavarians in the BBC Music Magazine Award-winning live recording; Roth isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty with the raggle-taggle marchers of the first movement. Even the trombone sounds more like a raw force of nature than a sophisticated funeral master. Clarinets’ shrilling and fierce trumpet playing compound an outstandingly vivid drama. The recording helps, brilliant in high frequencies and powerful in the bass, though I wish there was just a little more depth and backlighting

Once past a mobile but graceful flower-picture and animal magic in the woods, Roth shows he can do serious, too, with mezzo Sara Mingardo symbolic of the performance as a whole: not an unearthly oracle but a feeling human being, deeply involved in the night-picture around her. The great Adagio never becomes statuesque, but instead remains theatre of unpredictable explosions and exultations. On its own terms, unbeatable.

David Nice