Mahler: Symphony No. 3 - Mácal
Exton OVCL-00300 (2 discs)
Classical - Orchestral
Mahler: Symphony No. 3
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Zdenek Mácal (conductor)
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Review by John Broggio - November 11, 2007
This, quite possibly, is the best all-round version of Mahler's 3rd Symphony I have heard to date.
Why? Well, it steers a middle course between the "objective" Modernism school of Abbado and the more Romanticism school of Tilson Thomas. [The quotation marks are needed because this is one composer that it is patently impossible to have an objective view about!] It is also available on Mahler: Symphony No. 3 - Mácal as a dual SACD/DVD-A release but in Europe this is the version that can be obtained.
For many years, due to a mix of youthful naivety (I was not aware that the Czech PO premièred the 7th symphony!) and marketing muscle of certain recording stables, I didn't believe that an orchestra that wasn't one of the Concertgebouw, Vienna or Berlin Philharmonics could adequately represent the music or tradition that Mahler demanded. How wrong this release would have proved me back then! It is true that there are a few moments when the Czech PO are sounding a little raw and that they could possibly provide a more upholstered sound but this set emanates largely from a live concert (together with some patching in the studio). Are the rough edges distracting? Not in the least to me; if anything they add to the impression of the spirit of the music as conveyed by Zdenek Mácal but I recognise that they are not the occasionally sterile picture of perfection that Tilson Thomas has under his baton.
I still hold vivid and highly memorable concert performances from the BPO under both Abbado (his most recent CD release of the work, the sonics of which were ruined by DG's re-engineering team) and Haitink - this account is easily their equal in terms of searing intensity and honesty in equal measure and I would find it much harder to part with this set than Mahler: Symphony No. 3 - Chailly or Mahler: Symphony No. 3, Kindertotenlieder - DeYoung/Tilson Thomas (although I wouldn't want to be without the Kindertotenlieder). It must be mentioned though that other conductors have found a darker side to the music that isn't given as much stress here as some might like.
The first movement is one of the hardest movements in all of symphonic music to bring off successfully due to the gargantuan size of both the forces but also the musical conception and the way it handles the forces in an almost chamber-like way at times. Incredibly, Mácal manages to inflect every detail with interest while retaining both his and our ears on the bigger picture in an entirely natural manner. Few manage to bring off this challenge of balancing the differing aspects with such success. One reason that might suggest the reason for such a warm response is their approach to the glissando markings - some exaggerate them, others hide them; here they are "just so" with no more or less significance at the time.
Equally successful are the quixotic and shimmering Menuetto and Scherzando movements - it is hard to believe that this is the same string, wind and brass ensemble that bring such a homespun glow to Dvorak and Smetana. For here, every tiny microscopic detail is rendered as if to the manner born and the many changes of tempo occur as naturally as breathing. The post-horn solo (Miroslav Kejmar) rates special mention (it would be bad if it did not!) for the lingering and poignant mood is caught to perfection in the playing (although it sounds as if the player is on stage, not in the wings as many would expect these days - he does however capture the mood of distance fully).
The singing from Birgit Remmert and the Prague Philharmonic Children's Choir is both rapt and joyful by turns before what must be one of the most profoundly beautiful movements in anyone's listening experience. The strings radiate warmth and love from their lean but beautiful sonorities before the woodwind join in rustic tones in the hymn to nature that is topped off with glorious brass that carry all before them. The dying of the final D major sonority makes one want to embark on the emotional journey immediately...
This music is a great vehicle for musical and sonic reproduction and it is not just the Czech forces that excel here - great credit must go to Exton and their engineers for their sterling work in the Rudolfinum (Prague). Compared to Dvorak: Saint Ludmila - Bělohlávek, this is on another level altogether and cannot be too highly acclaimed for the clarity and honesty of the sonic "picture".
Very highly recommended.
Copyright © 2007 John Broggio and HRAudio.net