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Mahler: Symphony No. 3 - Jansons

Mahler: Symphony No. 3 - Jansons

RCO live  RCO 10004 (2 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Mahler: Symphony No. 3 in D minor

Bernarda Fink (mezzo soprano)
Netherlands Radio Choir
Boys of the Breda Sacrament Choir
Rijnmond Boys Choir
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Mariss Jansons (conductor)


The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is steadfastly progressing with its Mahler cycle under the direction of its chief conductor Mariss Jansons. Following the releases of the First, Second, Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, the orchestra now turns its attention to the Third Symphony.

Jansons and his Amsterdam-based orchestra performed the Symphonies Nos. 2, 3 and 8 in the 2009–11 seasons as part of the full, chronological series of performances given by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Gustav Mahler’s symphonies to commemorate his 150th birthday and the 100th anniversary of his death. The series is being performed under the direction of various conductors during the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons.

Once again, Jansons stands out in these performances with his astonishingly keen eye for the minutest details. Like no other, Jansons possesses the ability to integrate all this beautiful detailing into the virtually infinite overarching climaxes that can make listening to Mahler’s symphonies such an exciting experience.

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Review by John Miller - June 26, 2011

At first hearing, this set offers beguilingly natural, luxurious sound and an extraordinary level of orchestral playing from the RCO. For some, this will be enough to merit purchasing the mid-priced pair of discs, especially if the listener has been collecting previous volumes in Janson's current Mahler cycle. From the evidence of playing and recording alone, this is a very good Mahler 3. But dig a little deeper, compare it with the best versions by Barbirolli, Kubelik, Abbado, Bernstein, Bychkov et al, and discover what is missing. This is politically correct Mahler, powerful but shorn of much of the young composer's "edge" or "shock and awe" tactics. Too smooth and too beautiful, perhaps; a modernised Mahler, not the young tyro who was revelling in the "shock of the new" of his age.

Jansons is at his best in the turbulent first movement of Mahler's great hymn to Nature. The wonderful RCO horns brazenly call the great god Pan to awaken to begin creation of the Earth, and the many important trombone solos of this movement are superbly-wrought, more insightful by far than Tilson Thomas' rather unimaginative soloist in his San Francisco version (Mahler: Symphony No. 3, Kindertotenlieder - DeYoung/Tilson Thomas). Also on the plus side, Janson's two banal marches have real "schwung" and the final helter-skelter rush to the final chord is done with virtuosic enthusiasm. However, Jonathan Nott's Bamberg players (Mahler: Symphony No. 3 - Nott) find so much more detail to relay of Mahler's professed programme for this complex and chaotic movement.

Jansons seems to treat the next four movements as 'character' interludes before the culminating sixth movement, rather than steps on the ladder of Creation as Mahler intended. His second movement minuet oozes with charm and floral perfume, smoothing over the contrast shading done by other conductors. The Scherzando misses out on prescribed pppp markings (a general tendency on this disc for these live performances for the RCO to play very quiet sections often at a generalised mezzo forte), and while the playing sound beautiful, it smooths out much expressive shading and contrast, although the fllügel horn soloist (not a posthorn as many think) is most atmospherically captured from an off-stage position and the near-stasis of the accompanying string s is quite magical .

The fourth movement is taken a little faster than usual, and although Bernarda Fink is pure-toned in her solo, she opts for a simple delivery. Moving enough - but others have shown how much more can be extracted from the Nietzsche text (listen to Mihoko Fujimura's wonderful changes of vocal tone colour and word-painting in Nott's fourth movement). The RCO oboist's plangent interpolations sound much less like bird calls than Nott's soloist does. The composer himself said "there is more to music than just the notes".

Movement five's bright bell-like opening rather catches out the boys of the Breda Sacrament Choir, they are mostly lost in the orchestral sound for some bars, and don't really make the bright, perhaps cheeky sound that Mahler clearly wanted.

The RCO strings excel in the finale, which is about expressing the love of God rather than sensual love; their saturated tone is luxurious, as is their singing inflection of the almost unending stream of melody. But compared with other recordings, the inner parts with their counter-melodies are not so clearly depicted. The final peroration, however, is grandiose without bombast, and stirs the audience into loud applause, faded quite quickly by the engineers. There is no separate track for the applause.

Very good in parts, sounds wonderful but misses something of the essential Mahler in this the most intellectually constructed of the four Wunderhorn symphonies. Worth hearing just for the RCO's playing, though.

Copyright © 2011 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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