Mihoko Fujimura (contralto)
Boys from Bamberg Cathedral Choir & Women of the Bamberg Symphony Chorus
Bamberg Symphony Orchestra
Recorded 25-28 & 30 May 2010 in Sinfonie an der Regnitz, Joseph-Keilberth-Saal, Bamberg
Reviewed by: Peter Reed
Reviewed: September 2011
CD No: TUDOR 7170
Duration: 1 hour 44 minutes
This release of Mahler 3 puts the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and its Principal Conductor Jonathan Nott five symphonies (6, 7, 8, 10 and Das Lied von der Erde) short of their complete Mahler cycle for Tudor. The results so far have been of a very high quality, with particularly fine recordings of the Ninth and the ‘Resurrection’, and this Third is easily in their league. Rafael Kubelík’s recording was my formative influence, later Bernstein’s two and Abbado’s Vienna version; and many Mahlerians are umbilically linked to Horenstein’s Unicorn recording. More recently, as part of his variable cycle, Gergiev scored a notable success with the Third for LSO Live.
Nott’s way into this inexhaustible score avoids the superhuman emotionalism of, for example, Bernstein, without sacrificing anything in terms of stature, and he is faithful to the original, deleted titles to each movement, so you are always aware of Mahler’s progression through the natural chain of being. The factor that sold Nott’s recording to me is that he has the elemental force of the pantheistic first movement at his fingertips. The opening horn fanfare and the ensuing descent into chaos, its lifelessness eerily defined by those wailing trumpet triplets, bookend this movement’s extremes of experience, and the way the horns barge into the opening gives you fair warning of the reach of Nott’s reading. Even more impressive, though, is the way you hear the music of chaos coalescing sufficiently just about to support simple, precarious life-forms such as jolly, summery marches and schmaltzy violin solos. Nott’s preparation is scrupulous, but that only half-explains the way in which he has folded the movement’s wildly disjunctive elements into an organic whole, with a strong, natural narrative. The playing is magnificently characterised and liberating, with an independence and intelligence that go way beyond normal expectations of orchestral ensemble, as full a realisation of Mahler’s precisely marked nuances as you are likely to hear in a score teeming with detail.
The comparative simplicity of the Minuet second movement comes as a relief, tinged with a remote, Hansel-and-Gretel-type feyness. Nott makes the third movement a dialogue between a dream of perfection, as expressed by the haunting, remote flugelhorn solo, and the reality of an uncontainable life-force – when Mahler asks for playing that is grob (coarse) the orchestra responds with a will. The destabilising crisis of Pan’s final roar, like the one that closes the first movement, is stupendously dangerous. The floating, subtly coloured contralto of Mihoko Fujimura sinks deep into the mysteries of the Midnight Song, and the spare sounds, especially the oboe’s cries in the dark, and extremes of quiet playing truly deliver music from another planet, and Nietzsche’s pain of full consciousness is put into perspective by a refreshingly blithe and naïve ’Es sungen drei Engel’, a celebration of forgiveness as a prerequisite of the love expressed by the finale. Having worked wonders with the first movement, Nott is just as impressive in the last. He is right inside the music, embracing the disparate moods of the middle movements in conducting that draws out noble and transparent playing, making this transforming meditation take wing. The closing pages not only achieve their magnificent goal; they also in this performance clinch and explain this huge span of music.
The recording has a warm, lively presence that fit’s the score’s dynamic range and flatters everything, from delicate solo playing to choral singing. An indispensable release.