Mahler - Symphony no.3
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Label: Channel Classics
Cat No: CCSSA38817
Number of Discs: 2
Release Date: 19th May 2017
ArtistsGerhild Romberger (alto)
Cantemus Children’s Choir
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Budapest Festival Orchestra
No fewer than six movements, the richest of orchestral forces, and a contralto soloist and boys’ and women’s choirs whose sung texts help to bring across the Symphony’s message, as in the Second Symphony and later in the Fourth and Eighth as well.
Gerhild Romberger’s extremely extensive repertoire encompasses all the major contralto and mezzo-soprano parts in the oratorio and concert literature from the Baroque to the Classical and Romantic periods all the way to the twentieth century.
‘There is something divine in the wealth of this great masterpiece.’ - Iván Fischer
‘the great partnership of Iván Fischer and his Budapest players make music of supreme intimacy and vitality. They endow the work with a poise and lyricism too often sacrificed in favour of frenzied intensity...’ - The Observer, 17 November 2013 ****
‘Fischer is faithful to Mahler’s score, yet lays bare this music’s poignant sense of a leave-taking, even if it was not to be the composer’s last word on the symphony.’ - Sunday Times, 14 June 2015
‘Fischer gives us the edginess of Bernstein without his tendency to wallow. ...it's the small things that so often strike sparks’ - Gramophone Magazine, June 2015
1I. Kraftig Entschieden
2II. Tempo di Minuetto. Sehr massig.
3III. Comodo. Scherzando. Ohne Hast.
4IV. Sehr langsam. Misterioso. Durchaus ppp.
5V. Lustig im Tempo und keck im Ausdruck.
6VI. Langsam. Ruhevoll. Empfunden.
Fischer clearly grasps this underlying programme, and his approach to it is a distinctive one. The opening unison horn melody was for Mahler an ‘Awakening Call’, and most conductors, to a greater or lesser extent, take the opportunity to grab the music by the scruff of the neck. Fischer starts purposefully, but he allows the music to unfold naturally yet without any loss of momentum. It’s typical of his way with the entire work: the strings of other orchestras tend to dig in to Mahler’s writing, but the Budapest strings instead radiate an almost unalloyed joy. This is a Dionysian world viewed through an Apollonian prism. Not that the irony or sense of grotesque is missing: yet passages like the wild ‘Mob’ scene towards the end of the development are as clear and finely delineated as you’ll ever hear them, while still making for gripping listening.
As in the similarly structured Second Symphony, two vast outer movements bookend a series of shorter inner ones: and it is the latter that are the work’s beating heart, so tricky to bring off in performance, but unerringly paced and balanced by Fischer and his players. The Menuet dances gracefully, while the folk-like third movement, with its Wunderhorn references and distant posthorn solo (given a perfect aural perspective) is utterly magical. The fourth movement, a sombre yet rapt setting of a text from Nietzche’s Also sprach Zarathustra, is lent extra depth by alto Gerhild Romberger: there is no finer Mahler singer today, combining beauty of tone with acute textual awareness in a way that perfectly matches Fischer’s (and Mahler’s) overall conception. The variety of colours and nuances produced by the orchestra at hushed dynamic levels has to be heard to be believed.
For the angelic fifth movement, Romberger and the orchestra are joined by the Cantemus Children’s Choir from Nyiregyháza and the women of the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks for one of the most uplifting performances of this music ever committed to disc; even the troubled central section has a buoyant lightness to it, and the music’s expressive impact is far greater than its four minutes’ duration might suggest.
In the achingly beautiful sixth movement – a vast symphonic Adagio in all but name – Fischer again scores over all his rivals with a distinctive reading in which the strings use sparing vibrato and the subtlest nuances of shading to hold the listener spellbound. No need for Maazel’s ugly tempo distortions here, nor Gergiev’s indecent haste at the close to bring the movement to a climax. Even the supremacy of Abbado’s near-definitive Lucerne account (on DVD) is challenged here by the Budapest orchestra’s wonderfully open, airy tone, allowing subtle details to emerge without the least hint of artifice, while Fischer’s handling of the overall arc is masterly. In the final bars, he rightly keeps the timpani in check as few others do (they and the brass are marked only forte, against the rest of the orchestra’s fortissimo). The result is that the Symphony closes not in a blaze of barnstorming glory, but with a warm, incandescent glow, crowning a performance of exceptional sensitivity, beauty, space and perceptiveness.
It’s all superbly caught by Channel Classics’ engineers, with Surround Sound for those that have the appropriate equipment. If Fischer’s remaining recordings in this series (the endlessly elusive Seventh and monumentally mystical Eighth) are up to this standard, we will have a Mahler cycle for not just this but every age, both visionary and emotionally compelling. In sum: a life-enhancing triumph, unmissable for all who love this music.
Without question, the finest instalment in Fischer’s Mahler cycle to date; and what breathtaking sound. Dan Morgan (Recording of the Month)
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