Anna Larsson (mezzo-soprano)
Tiffin Boys’ Choir
Ladies of the London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra
Recorded September 2007 in Barbican Hall, London
Reviewed by: Peter Joelson
Reviewed: October 2008
CD No: LSO LIVE LSO0660
(2CDs) [CD/SACD Hybrid]
Duration: 92 minutes
Gustav Mahler started writing his Third symphony in the summer of 1895 in his studio by side of the Attersee. Although it is scored for a slightly smaller orchestra than that used for the Second Symphony (Resurrection), in conception and length it is the more adventurous. Inspired by his surroundings, from lifeless minerals and rocks through flora and fauna to mankind, Mahler has the symphony end with his paean to love. The first performance of part of the symphony, just the second, third and sixth movements, took place under Felix Weingartner in 1897 and was not well received. The whole work had to wait until 1902 for a performance, this time under the composer, and was greeted very favourably. All the movements originally had titles but were removed by the time the work was published, a planned seventh movement having been discarded earlier, later to become the finale of the Fourth Symphony.
The first movement of No.3 is in effect the first of the symphony’s two parts and lasts in this performance for a little over 32 minutes. Valery Gergiev builds the tension here from the very opening bars, Mahler’s tribute to symphonic tradition quoting Brahms’s theme from the finale of his First Symphony, itself inspired by Beethoven’s Ninth. Though a large orchestra is used, textures are often spare, and when the full forces are used the effect can be devastating in its power. Gergiev’s pacing of the movement is very successful, the symphonic structure never allowed to fragment.
From rocks and minerals, and Spring marching in, as the first movement’s agenda, the second’s delicate Minuet was inspired by the flora surrounding the composer’s studio. Particularly notable here are the LSO’s wind players whose sensitive playing is very moving. The third movement, an unhurried scherzo, brings more bucolic sounds, Mahler’s bird imitations again brought to life so skilfully by the wind players, and so well paced by Gergiev. Christopher Deacon’s offstage flugelhorn punctuates very effectively.
For the fourth movement, Mahler uses a short extract from Nietzsche’s “Also sprach Zarathustral; the soloist, here the excellent Anna Larsson, sings about the midnight hour, the time, as Stephen Johnson relates in his excellent booklet essay, “mankind’s struggle to make sense of the world.” Even the two words “O Mensch” make an enormous impression, so movingly sung by Larsson. She is naturally balanced, not spot-lit by microphones, allowing her timbres to expand. (Texts are included in the booklet.)
Similarly, in the next movement, the boys’ and ladies’ voices are effectively balanced, just occasionally covered by the orchestra, and sung with gusto, particularly by the boys who produce some lusty chest tone. The bells and their imitations, so lightly applied, make for an uplifting experience. The finale, much praised at its premiere, is slow in tempo, and originally had the title “What love tells me”; this hymn has those moments where time can stand still and it certainly does here. Mahler wrote: ”In the Adagio everything is resolved into peace and being; the Ixion wheel of appearances has at last been brought to a standstill.”
Gergiev brings out all the moods and feelings in this symphony with enormous success, from the relentless strength and vigour in the first movement, to beauty and delicacy elsewhere. The London Symphony Orchestra is on superb form, the virtuosity and sensitivity of the players quite staggering in its execution. Listening to the SACD programme of this hybrid disc, the engineers have surpassed themselves to produce an excellent aural experience. The SACD layer produces untiring sound, the balances are natural and realistic, and the detail is phenomenal. This wholly satisfying performance is highly recommendable.