This is the fifth Mahler recording from Markus Stenz and the
Gürzenich-Orchester Köln. Previous instalments in
what, presumably, is an evolving cycle have comprised the Second
the Fourth (OC 649), the Fifth (OC 650) and Lieder aus ‘Des
Knaben Wunderhorn’(OC 657). As can be seen,
only one of those releases has come our way for review and I
noticed - after listening to this recording of the Third
- that Dan Morgan, who knows his Mahler, was unimpressed by
Stenz’s traversal of the Resurrection. On the other
hand, several years ago I was quite impressed by a recording
that Stenz made of the Fifth Symphony during his time as Chief
Conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (review).
The first disc contains the huge first movement. Stenz launches
it at a cracking - but not excessive - pace and the horns make
a strong impact. The traversal of the movement that follows
is a very good one indeed, helped by incisive orchestral playing
that’s excellent in every way. The playing is reported
in a very fine recording that is clear and detailed; I listened
to these SACDs as conventional CDs, by the way. There’s
a splendid, imposing trombone solo (from 6:54) in which the
uncredited player displays a fine sense of rhetoric. His other
extended solos are equally good.
To my way of thinking Stenz doesn’t put a foot wrong during
this long movement, He displays a firm grip on the music and
responds well to its many changes of mood and tone. The martial
sections have tremendous swagger but the many delicate passages
come off equally well - sample the duet between horn and principal
violin around 19:00. I’d say that Stenz’s interpretation
combines thrust and finesse and he brings the movement home
with a headlong account of the hedonistic final pages.
His tempo for the second movement is perhaps just a tiny fraction
too steady - but we’re talking fine margins here. Stenz
gets some really pointed and delicate playing from the orchestra
and the interpretation has the requisite charm. The scherzando
third movement is another success. Once again, much of the playing
is razor-sharp. The famous post-horn solos, delightfully distanced,
are beautifully played, the string accompaniment is super-soft.
The nostalgic mood is caught just as it should be.
In the fourth movement the soft dark hues of the orchestra make
a good impression. Michaela Schuster is a fine, expressive soloist
who does just enough with the music but, thankfully, no more;
she allows Mahler to speak for himself. Stenz gets his oboe
and cor anglais players to deliver upward slurred portamenti
as has become the fashion among some conductors in recent years
- Rattle was the first to do it in my experience. It may be
“authentic” but it’s not an effect that I
enjoy. However, this isn’t enough to mar a good account
of the movement. In the short movement that follows the ladies
and boys sing with vigour and freshness and Miss Schuster’s
contribution is again good.
In the long-breathed adagio finale the Cologne strings really
distinguish themselves with rich, expressive playing and when
their colleagues in other sections of the band join in it’s
clear they’re not going to be outdone. Stenz paces and
controls the movement expertly, building it patiently. At 15:54
when the soft, shining brass take up the burden of the movement
the music sounds wonderful and from 18:22 the movement moves
to a majestic apotheosis.
Let’s not beat about the bush. I think this is a tremendous
performance, superbly played and marvellously recorded. It’s
one of the best Mahler Thirds that I’ve heard for a very
long time. In a long list of distinguished recordings - this
symphony has been lucky on disc - the best I’ve come across
are those conducted by Bernstein - his CBS/Sony recording -
by Horenstein for Unicorn Kanchana (the release reviewed
here was unauthorised, it seems, and has been withdrawn
but the view of the performance itself, splendidly recorded
by Unicorn, remains valid - it is however available as a download
from the Classical Shop); and by Tennstedt (review).
Sadly, I’ve not yet seen and heard the highly-regarded
Abbado recording (review).
This new Stenz version may not supplant those recordings at
the top of the tree but it deserves to be ranked with them.
I’ll be interested to hear more Mahler from this team.
If they can sustain this level of quality their cycle could
be one with which to be reckoned. By the way, I’m mystified
as to why Oehms can provide a booklet in which everything is
in German and English and then omit an English translation of
the sung texts.
Masterwork Index: Symphony