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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 3 in D Minor [95.51]
Anna Larsson (alto)
Clara-Schumann-Jugendchor, Women’s Choir of Städtischer Musikverein Düsseldorf
Düsseldorfer Symphoniker/Ádám Fischer
rec. live, Tonhaller Düsseldorf, 9-13 November 2017
CAVI-MUSIC 8553399 [33.50 + 62.01]

This recording, based on live sessions (some coughs are detectible), is a valuable addition to the many alternative interpretations available, if not necessarily a first choice.

Of course, a symphony as rich as this – perhaps the most Mahlerian of all – can be seen from so many angles. For some, one of the finest of all recordings is Bernard Haitink’s most recent survey – Olympian, with a richness of detail (BR Klassik 900149), endless insight based on a lifetime of experience, but occasionally a little lacking in impetus. Of recent recordings the strongest competition comes from Ádám's brother Iván Fischer, with the Budapest Festival Orchestra (Channel Classics SACD CCS SA 38817) in a superb, sensitively detailed and carefully structured reading. The special quality is the sense of devotion to each of the movements, treating each as significant, and leading to a magnificent conclusion. Part of the strength of Iván’s version is the admirable recording quality.

Ádám Fischer’s is also splendidly recorded. He sets out his stall very early in the deliberate tread of the opening bars. Fischer (and the engineers) tend to highlight the percussion as well as the brass, and the entire work benefits in general from this. Iván is a mite brisker in the outer movements, Ádám in the central three. Both approaches work very well, though on balance, Iván feels a little brisker. Of course, pacing is not identical with clock time. The now venerable but admirable Kubelik recording, feels brisker than those of either of the Fischer brothers, yet his timings are very close to those of Ádám. In Kubelik, the greater impetus is found in the phrasing and the weight of beat. In the central march sections of the first movement Ádám is perhaps a fraction less convincing than Iván, despite his keen attention to detail. But both performances are special – each brother understands Mahler from the inside. It is always important to recall that while Mahler was very detailed in his instructions, he provided no metronome markings and was fluid in his own performances.

On the new recording Anna Larsson is a fine soloist, and choral contributions are impressive. I would have preferred boys’ voices as the heavenly choir in the fourth movement, though the children (10-17) of the Clara-Schumann-Jugendchor are well disciplined and idiomatic, as are Cantemus for Iván. I still missed the special purity of just young voices male voices.

I would not want to be without either of the brothers’ performances. Each is informed, wonderfully insightful, splendidly recorded – and the contrasts mean they remind us forcibly of the richness of Mahler’s genius. These are the finest two modern recordings I have heard, both are worth endless revisiting – but I shall not be dispensing with Kubelik, either. What a trinity!

Michael Wilkinson

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