Mahler: Symphony No. 3 - Nott
Tudor SACD 7170 (2 discs)
Classical - Orchestral
Mahler: Symphony No. 3 in D minor
Mihoko Fujimura (mezzo soprano)
Knaben des Bamberger Domchores
Damen des Chores der Bamberger Symphoniker
Jonathan Nott (conductor)
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Review by John Miller - June 25, 2011
Nott's ongoing Mahler cycle has generally been receiving excellent reviews, at least here on SA-CD.net. The Third seems to be one of the least popular of the symphonies, possibly because of its intensively constructed and highly intellectual programme, which Mahler himself had to retract and re-phrase for public consumption.
This symphony represents nothing less than Mahler's private Pantheistic cosmology, and as such fits into the larger picture of the tetralogy of the first four symphonies which mark his first artistic period. In composing his hymn to the natural world, he was greatly influenced by a poem by Siegfried Lipener entitled "Genesis" which relates a dream of creation from a cloud which begins to speak. It tells how out of the cloud came the firmament (Earth), suns, the plant kingdom, the animal kingdom and finally mankind. Deryck Cooke wrote, “The idea behind the work was a conception of existence in its totality. The vast first movement was to represent the summoning of Nature out of non-existence by the god Pan, symbolized by the emergence of summer out of winter; and after this, the five shorter movements were to represent the ‘stages of being’ (as Mahler expressed it in a letter), from vegetable and animal life, through mankind and the angels, to the love of God.”
The initial titles of the movements were:
(1) "Summer Marches in", (2) "What the Meadow Flowers tell me (3) "What the Creatures of the Forest Tell Me" (4) "What Night Tells Me" (5) "What the Morning Bells Tell Me" (6 ) "What God Tells Me"
and the final titles:
(1) “Pan awakes; Summer marches in" (2) "What the flowers of the meadow tell me” (3) What the animals in the woods tell me (4) “What Man tells me” (5) “What the Angels tell me” (6) "What Love Tells Me".
It is vital that conductors realise the existence of this overall ladder-like structure and continually carry its narrative forward. Like some of the earlier generation of Mahler conductors, Nott manages this very well. He also has his orchestral players avoid the current tendency for overly polite and smooth (bland?) music-making by trying to bring out the often deeply shocking nature of Mahler's orchestrations. Especially in the long first movement, there are passages of shrieking, marching, surging and seething which cry out for rough or rude characterisations. Deryck Cooke called this movement "flabbergasting" and Nott works to make it so. Compared with Janson's contemporary issue of the RCO Third, Nott manages, by closer observation of dynamics, especially at the lower range, a more suspenseful, dramatic and foreboding opening, with sharper-toned brass and characterful phrasing. Nott's Wunderhorn nature music is lighter and more airily expressive than Jansons, and the vulgar ironic wind comments are more biting. His two march tunes are blatantly banal and their collisions in collages of sheer chaos most effective.
In the delicious second movement's floral minuet, Nott's players are coyly tongue-in-cheek, scurrying brilliantly in the Trios to portray the winds that blow the leaves and unsettle the flowers, and he spins the final Wunderhorn music to a tender, sunny conclusion. The Bamberg Symphony players (on top form in this recording) bring a distinctive lilt and many changes of light and shade to the Scherzando third movement. Its famous "post-horn" interludes are beautifully done, with Mahler's specified flügelhorn (not really a post-horn as many people think) floating its 'ranz-des-vaches' like calls from high on the right offstage, as if from a hill-top above a still valley. The Bamberg flügelhorn player is more atmospherically distant within the resonant acoustic of their concert hall than is the Concertgebouw player.
Nott takes almost 2 minutes longer over the fourth movement compared with Jansons. Immediately he sets up a timeless canvas against which Mihoko Fujimora intones her admonitions and warnings to humanity. The repeated words "O Mensch" are delivered in a measured rocking rhythm and a vocal tone colour which speaks of an infinite burden of sorrow. These words are accompanied by the oboe's upward-swooping night-bird's call - so much more tragic and bird-like even than managed by Janson's RCO oboist. Then Fujimora noticeably changes her tone colour to a sterner one, while the underlying string melody reflects Mankind's humility at the delivery of Nietsche's lecture. This is one of the most evocative readings of this movement that I have come across.
While Janson's "Bim-Bam" choral fifth movement is mostly routine, Nott starts it more softly (as marked), his boys enter with more impact, having clearer and more cheeky voices, and the whole movement is alive with a propulsive rhythmic drive which gives it a real emotional lift. The climax, however, is sinister, with snarling brass reminding us, as always in Mahler, of the darker side of life's experiences, even the happy ones.
Mahler's final slow movement almost balances the symphony's first movement in length. Surely it must be one of the most profoundly beautiful of symphonic movements. Nott gives it more time to unfold than Jansons (by about 3 minutes, but not as slow as Bernstein). The Bamberg strings even have greater gravitas and warmth, and Nott's careful internal balancing allows counter-melodies to tell more clearly than the RCO strings manage. Yet the Bambergers are playing much more softly (as directed in the score), and this comparative restraint bodes well for the several great impassioned climaxes which Nott places immaculately, each greater than the former. The penultimate climax becomes anguished, but never erotic as in Mahler's love-music for his wife Alma; this is about love for God.
Broadening finally, the huge ultimate climax brings utter joyful affirmation and stylishly concludes a spell-binding reading of the Third Symphony. It is amazing that the live audience, whose presence has been barely detectable, did not arise cheering (as does the Concertgebouw audience), but the Tudor engineers have managed to let the resounding hall sound subside into silence for our own contemplation.
Tudor, now well experienced in capturing Mahler, have produced an exemplary natural hall sound, not too distant, with a huge dynamic range. There is a much deeper sound-stage than offered on RCO Live and thus the recording is more thrilling in its super focus and natural perspective in multichannel mode.
In my view, a Third Symphony to treasure, along with the early recordings of Bychkov, Kubelik, Barbirolli and a few others.
Copyright © 2011 John Miller and HRAudio.net
Review by John Broggio - September 1, 2011
This latest offering from Jonathan Nott in his Mahler cycle from Bamberg is arguably his finest so far - it certainly becomes first choice on SACD.
Immediately in the gargantuan first movement (given the first disc to itself), one notices the great care with which Nott has deployed his orchestral forces: split violins, cellos & basses are centre-left, either side of the woodwind block are trumpets, one set of timpani and the percussion (left) whereas the trombones & other timpani are stage-right with horns centre-right of the woodwind. This points up the variety of juxtapositions of musical motifs that Mahler makes in this great (and in lesser hands, sprawling) movement. The playing is simply wonderful - both refined & subtle yet the vulgar moments are played with real gusto that in no way prettifies them! Nott stretches the tempo as much as in Mahler: Symphony No. 3 - Chailly but never loses the listeners concentration for a moment such is the characterisation from all concerned at both micro & macro levels. (Both Nott & Chailly take just shy of 35 minutes; by contrast Abbado in 1999 took 33 & in Mahler: Symphony No. 3 - Mácal the first movement is given in 32 minutes.) As Mahler himself suggested, there is something elemental about this movement in particular (and the symphony in general); it is conveyed here with quite some aplomb be it in the gradual deep stirrings, the "birds" of the upper instruments conversing or the martial aspects that quickly become quite intoxicated. That these very different elements sound completely interrelated is a testament to all concerned.
From a huge symphonic edifice, the second movement Tempo di Menuetto floats on a beautiful melody (first presented on oboe before handing itself around the rest of the upper orchestra) supported by harp and plucked lower strings - here it is radiant and the divided violins come into to their own as the melodic ideas are passed between sections; it is a constant source of both wonder & irritation that many conductors *still* don't seat the orchestra as is obviously intended by countless numbers of scores! As with the first movement, Nott is daringly slow in the more relaxed sections but thanks to careful phrasing over the short and long terms, interest never wavers; a bonus is that when the faster sections take over, the contrast in pulse is greater which makes for a more disconcerting and giddier ride. Superb.
The third movement contains one of the most magical movements in all music: the off-stage posthorn solo. Before this, a mocking interpretation of the second movement (including donkey brays) is heard constantly intertwining with such a sweet interlude it is scarcely credible in these hands. The positioning of the Bamberg players once again is extraordinarily telling and has the ear darting around the stage. As before, Nott chooses conventional speeds for the faster passages but dares his orchestra - who willingly follow - to flirt with stagnation in more reflective episodes. A dangerous strategy but one that, time and again, pays enormous dividends to the emotional experience of the listener. Back to the famous posthorn solos: at times when Markus Mester himself plays sotto voce, the sound just hangs in the air as though emanating from space - magical.
In the fourth movement (Sehr Langsam), Nott is - once again - daringly slow; he takes 11 minutes to Abbado's 9, Chailly's 10 & Macal's 8'40. Such a slow speed is very risky and threatens to fall apart at any moment. But not here; instead the effect is for time to apparently stop. The extract from Also sprach Zarathustra that Mihoko Fuijmura intones angelically or almost mournfully as appropriate. The accompanying cor anglais and oboe slides are most wonderfully poised and the sheer stillness of the quiet strings is rarely found on disc or in concert.
The fifth movement is, like the purely orchestral movements, highly characterised and the chorus of women and boys pay equal respect to the music as their instrumental colleagues. Importantly this means that the varied contributions of the two different age groups are more easy to differentiate and the lower volume start than some means that this movement feels less of a "jolt" in between the two slow movements. Compared to Abbado, Nott gets his forces to adopt a heavier tone which gives the movement more weight and less surface brilliance than it otherwise might.
With barely time to gather their repose, the strings creep in stealthily with one of Mahler's most beautiful melodies that they caress as if it were a newborn baby - there is no sentimentality on display here. Once more, Nott takes his time (26 minutes to Abbado's 22, Chailly's 23 and Macal's 24) and the result is as though he is offering us a chaste prayer for life; he clearly sees this music as speaking to and for the whole world. Central to the success of this performance (both of the movement and the symphony as a whole) is the playing of the music at the dynamics at which they were marked by Mahler - it prevents sentimentality from stealing the show and just as importantly the climaxes make a far bigger impact psychologically and physiologically. As the final climax builds so does the feeling of unalloyed joy in the hearts of the listener, "What love tells me" was Mahler's subtitle & tell us it does.
That there was no immediate ovation to such a magnificent performance is hard to credit in a recording such as this one, derived from concert performances as it is so clearly at least one patch has taken place. Not that one would ever recognise this as a concert performance if it is measured by audience "participation" - this is almost entirely noticeable by its absence and the Tudor/BR Klassik collaboration is a marvel in and of itself: myriad detail is heard, yet the soundstage is wide and deep in an entirely convincing manner.
An extraordinary Mahler 3 for C21.
Copyright © 2011 John Broggio and HRAudio.net