Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911) Symphony No. 3 in D minor
(1893-1896, rev. 1906)
Kelley O’Connor (mezzo)
Women of the Dallas Symphony Chorus
Children’s Chorus of Greater Dallas
Dallas Symphony Orchestra/Jaap van Zweden
rec. live, 21-23 May 2015, Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, Dallas,
Reviewed as a 16-bIt download from eClassical
Pdf booklet included DALLAS SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA DSOLIVE007 [96:24]
The Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden, recently appointed
Alan Gilbert’s successor at the New York Philharmonic, has already
recorded two Mahler symphonies; the Fifth, with the LPO, and the Sixth,
with the Dallas Symphony. He certainly has the right credentials for
this repertoire; he was the youngest concertmaster ever appointed to
the Concertgebouw, one of the world’s great Mahler bands. I’ve
only heard one of his other recordings, that of Stravinsky’s Rite
of Spring and Apollon Musagète; fresh, lucid and very
compelling it was a Recording of the Month (review).
Recently I’ve been reappraising James Levine’s incomplete
Sony-RCA Mahler cycle, recorded with various orchestras in the 1970s
and early 1980s, and I was struck anew by his glorious account of the
Third. I’d quite forgotten how penetrating the conductor is there,
and how strongly the work’s bucolic/parodic elements come through.
Even more impressive is Levine’s ear for detail and his feel for
tempo relationships and symphonic structure, qualities that also make
Klaus Tennstedt’s live LPO account on ICA
Classics and Lorin Maazel’s Philharmonia one on Signum
There are many other fine accounts of Mahler's Third, high among them
various audio and video versions from Claudio Abbado and Leonard Bernstein,
so van Zweden’s will have to be very special if it’s to
compete with, let alone surpass, those iconic performances. It’s
clear from the first few minutes that the Dallas band are on their best
behaviour; it’s just as obvious that this is going to be a superficial
reading of this most radiant and eventful work. I have no issues with
directness when it comes to Mahler – indeed, I’ve come to
prefer it – but I baulk when, as here, it’s at the expense
of shape, insight and character.
Frankly, this is the most cursory and colourless opener I’ve heard
in ages; the clean but featureless recording certainly doesn’t
help. Most dispiriting, though, is van Zweden’s rumty-tumty approach
to a score whose topography is so varied and interesting. That air of
diffidence also permeates the Tempo Menuetto, which is like
an interminable trek across a barren plain. Charm? Forget it. Idiom?
You wish. Just to make sure I wasn’t having a fugue of some kind
I popped Levine’s Third into the player and, lo, I was thrust
into a vibrant, thrumming universe, full of nuance, wit and warm, telling
Goodness, can it get any worse? In a word, yes. The Scherzo
is just as soulless, and that applies to the playing as much as it does
to van Zweden’s direction; rhythms are flaccid and what should
be a colourful and engaging narrative is uncertain and insipid. What
I miss most is the heart, the affection that others bring to this music.
And those heart-stopping epiphanies? Dream on. As for the off-stage
posthorn it sounds like it’s in the next town. Once again I was
reminded of just how flat the recording is, with little depth, breadth
or sense of presence. I might as well have been listening to a low-bit-rate
mp3 rather than a CD-quality download.
Given what’s happened thus far I dreaded Kelley O’Connor’s
account of that sublime solo. I’m not sure which is worse, van
Zweden’s halting accompaniment or the mezzo’s very approximate
delivery. Taken together they certainly make for a grim interlude. Utterly
disenchanted I could hardly bring myself to continue, for not even a
miracle could save this performance now. The finale isn’t the
finely spun, slow-building apotheosis it should be; in fact it’s
dull, desiccated and just plain awful.
I’d say van Zweden’s Mahler 3 is on a par with Daniel Raiskin’s
(C-Avi) and Vladimir Ashkenazy’s (Decca) in terms of sheer ghastliness.
It’s recordings like these that make me wish orchestras would
think twice before programming or recording Mahler symphonies, even
if they do put bums on seats. Ironically it was Maazel – very
uneven himself – who made that point at the height of the double
centenary in 2010/11. As for the DSOLive recording it’s woeful,
and no match for the best ‘own labels’ out there. That said,
it’s van Zweden who must shoulder the blame for this travesty;
he'll have to do a lot better in New York.
Shallow performance and sound; an unmitigated disaster.