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
No booklet
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.

Dan Morgan

Previous review: John Quinn

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