Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
Symphony No. 3
Markus Stenz, cond; Michaela Schuster (alt); Cologne Cathedral Ch; Cologne Op Ch; Gurzenich O
OEHMS OC 648 (2 SACDs: 94:63
Text and Translation)
With the release of this impressive new Mahler Third, Markus Stenz completes the
trilogy (the First Symphony is often mistakenly so designated, though it contains no
reference). His joins a select few of those performances available as SACDs.
The opening fanfare wastes no time and is commanding, aided by the open and impactful sound production. At first melancholy, the “winter” theme becomes tense and edgy, each section of the orchestra in conflict with the immovable anchor of the various iterations of the horn theme. The “summer” theme sounds fresh and affecting as it emerges from the gloom. The trombone solos are uniformly weary rather than defiant, as though any thought of fighting the lethargy of winter is futile.
The growing confidence of the “summer” theme is well caught by the bloom of the audio, though instrumental detail is never compromised. The “rabble” section assembles the opposing forces and lets them have at it; baleful trombones and trumpets contrast with wonderfully screechy piccolo and swirling violins, all paced expertly as the basses finally scuttle back home to Nibelheim. The final triumphant summer procession fills the soundstage with bright colors before marching off in quickstep fashion. The moderately close audio perspective enhances the vitality of this conception.
The rather mellow oboe of the Gurzenich Orchestra sets the mood for the wistful second movement. The glowing strings establish a sunnier tone. The zephyrs that soon disturb the calm have the right “tempest in a teapot” character of the movement. The more rustic nature of the third movement is established by the forthright Gurzenich winds. As elsewhere in this interpretation, Stenz sets a moderately brisk tempo, which helps to distinguish these shorter middle movements from the titanic struggle of the first part. The posthorn solos—a mellow flugelhorn, perhaps—echoes hauntingly from behind the stage, soon growing closer, as though summoning the listener. The brash quality of the music surrounding the posthorn interludes takes on gravity as well as urgency, recalling the rabble of part one. The horncall episode at the end is impressive in the amount of energy the orchestra generates.
Michaela Schuster’s forthright but sympathetic version of “O Mensch!” complements her exemplary “Urlicht” in Stenz’s Mahler Second. The oboe and English horn employ the glissando in their “sound of nature” solos, and Stenz’s tempo keeps things from dragging. The boys, girls, and women sing “Bimm, Bamm” with spirit and verve, and the contrast with the previous movement is notable; in addition, each choir is distinguishable from the others in the sound mix.
At 21:35, Stenz’s final Adagio is five minutes shorter than Michael Tilson Thomas’s ardent one, and even shaves a minute from Zinman’s swifter account. There are two or three tempo markings on each page of the score (a quick count puts the total at 50), and most of these reverse the previous one! The trick is to honor the overall
marking while avoiding any feeling of lethargy; Stenz opts for passion and impetuosity, and I find his performance compelling. The final notes are extremely loud, and very cathartic.
From the post-78 rpm/pre-digital era (for convenience, the quarter-century between 1955 and 1980), the only vital Mahler Third to thrive is Leonard Bernstein’s 1961 account with the New York Philharmonic on Sony. Bernard Haitink and Claudio Abbado have each added new versions (on CSO Resound and EuroArts, respectively) that serve to enhance their well-established affinity with this score.
In the realm of SACD, Thirds by Michael Tilson Thomas and Benjamin Zander (still the best value for money) remain my primary recommendations, though I would add this new set to that elite twosome. The sound alone puts much of the competition (Gergiev, Zinman, Honeck) in the shade, and Stenz’s authority in Mahler’s music is becoming more obvious with every new Oehms release. Highest recommendation.
FANFARE: Christopher Abbot
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 3 in D minor by Gustav Mahler
Michaela Schuster (Mezzo Soprano)
Cologne Gürzenich Orchestra
Written: 1893-1896; Hamburg, Germany
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