Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 3 in D minor (1895) [96:15]
Klaus Tennstedt in conversation with Michael Oliver [5:44]
Waltraud Meier (mezzo)
Eton College Boys Choir
London Philharmonic Choir
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Klaus Tennstedt
rec. 5 October 1986, Royal Festival Hall, London (symphony); 1987, BBC Studios (interview)
Reviewed as a 16-bit download from
ICA CLASSICS ICAC5033 [101:42]
I remember it so clearly, hot-footing it to the local record shop to buy the just-released LPs of Klaus Tennstedt’s EMI Mahler Third. Just as lucid are the memories of listening to it shortly afterwards, mesmerised by the amplitude and authority of the performance. I’ve heard countless versions since, but few have inspired my affection and respect as much as that one. Now we have a live account, recorded seven years later, again with the LPO at its noble heart. Mezzo Waltraud Meier replaces Ortrun Wenkel as the soloist and the Eton Boys Choir have taken over from their counterparts in Southend.
Tennstedt’s live Mahler was always special, although I much prefer
his taut, highly charged Mahler 1 on BBC
Legends to his wayward Resurrection on the LPO’s
own label. Many other reviewers – John
Quinn included – liked the latter a great deal, though. JQ
also approved of this live ICA Third, which he feels supplants Tennstedt’s
studio one. He refers to Michael McManus’s thoughtful liner-notes
which, alas, you will not get with this download. At best this is short-sighted,
at worst it smacks of a worrying disdain, especially as these files
often cost more than the equivalent CDs.
First impressions of this live Third are entirely favourable. The opening
bars suggest this is going to be a lean and propulsive reading, with
none of the added weight that ruined Tennstedt’s live Second for
me. As always the LPO sound full-bodied and utterly at home in this
repertoire; the recording is pretty good too, although the soundstage
may seem a little narrow. That said, everything from the softest bass-drum
taps to those eruptive tuttis is well caught, and there’s absolutely
no hint of strain or coarseness anywhere. Above all this is an intensely
musical performance, whose bucolic moments are well judged and delivered
with refreshing honesty and idiom.
All too often Mahler’s daunting spans are apt to sag and splinter,
but Tennstedt ensures that doesn't happen here; true, others may find
more volatility in this opening movement – Claudio Abbado’s
various accounts come to mind, as does Lorin Maazel’s unusually
gripping performance on Signum
Classics – but for incisiveness and clarity this Tennstedt
version is hard to beat. In that respect this Third is very like the
BBC Legends First that I mentioned earlier. What a calm, unforced sense
of culmination he brings to this great score.
The delicacy and point of the minuet that greets us at the start of
the second movement is a joy to hear. Others court affectation by over-inflecting
this music, but Tennstedt plays it pretty straight. I suppose one might
say he prefers clear eyes to dewy ones, in this performance at least.
The scherzo is no less direct, and the balance between Wunderhorn lightness
and the movement’s weightier episodes is pretty much ideal. The
distant posthorn is as evocative as one could wish, and even if Tennstedt
doesn’t broaden the music as much as some do thereafter he still
manages to capture a deep sense of contentment and repose.
Meier’s radiant rendition of ‘O Mensch’ is accompanied
by equally luminous playing from the LPO, the horns especially. Really,
this must rank as one of the loveliest accounts of this solo on record.
Tennstedt paces it perfectly, and as a team these performers convey
the music’s evanescence more effectively than most. The boys’
bell-like tones are clear and suitably ardent, after which the epic
finale unfurls like a great sail. At the helm Tennstedt aims his bark
towards the distant shore with a certainty born of many crossings. Serene
and achingly beautiful, the symphony makes landfall with a splendour
and impact that’s both apt and overwhelming.
Devotees who may have missed this release should seek it out at once; and if, like Bunyan’s Pilgrim, you’re just starting your journey then let Tennstedt be your guide here. Even the missing booklet can’t detract from what is undeniably one of the most rewarding and complete Mahler Thirds in the catalogue. There’s brief applause and Tennstedt’s short but poignant interview with Michael Oliver is an added bonus.
A magnificent memorial to a great Mahlerian; good sound, too.