Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a Mahler Third where nobody puts a foot wrong anywhere: conductor, orchestra, or the recording team. Yet it's executed with the kind of wild abandon that's so necessary to the success of the earlier movements. Delos provides an aural canvas that's perfectly balanced between the four principal sections of the orchestra.
There was a time when new recordings of Mahler symphonies were major events, eagerly anticipated by the Mahler faithful, propagated by specialist conductors and orchestras steeped in the style. Now new recordings arrive seemingly every month, and everybody's doing it. This is often considered to be a Bad Thing in classical music circles because it
supposedly deadens the senses to the unique qualities of each interpretation, and reduces the significance of the release itself. There may be some truth to this. On the other hand, the reasons why Mahler has become so popular, both live and on disc, are perfectly reasonable. He's one of the few composers who can sell out a concert without the need to hire a "big name" concerto soloist or conductor. Because most of his symphonies are very long and fill an entire evening, they are actually in some respects easier to rehearse and play well than a more varied program. Finally, as arguably the greatest symphonic orchestrator that ever lived, musicians simply love to play him, and usually give him their best shot. Here is a case in point.
This new Mahler Third from Litton and his Dallas Orchestra may well be the best integrated view of the work, as a totality, ever to have come along. First off, it offers absolutely the finest vocal treatment the piece has ever received. Nathalie Stutzman is a genuine, dark toned contralto, and sings the fourth movement's Nietszche text with an "earth mother" brand of heaviness that's powerfully, hypnotically appropriate. The Texas Boys Choir just might be the best from anywhere on the planet, and Litton doesn't underplay the short orchestral interlude wedged into the middle of the same "bim-bam" fifth movement, as is sometimes the case. Though these are the shortest movements of the whole work, the care with which they are presented really is typical of the whole performance.
At 32 minutes long, the expeditionary first movement receives a raucous, unbridled performance that's similar to Esa-Pekka Salonen's up-tempo Los Angeles account (Sony), yet Litton never lets the major key "happy" march sound rushed, or bogs down the slower sections in funereal murk. The short development section that Mahler referred to as "the rabble" or "the southern storm" is completely unbuttoned but precisely played, with rushing strings, crackling percussion, and spectacular brass. The entire final, five minute reprise leading to the movement's coda is as perfectly played as it ever has been, by anyone. Solid trombone solo too. After that, the second movement receives, for my money, its best recorded performance ever, with Litton making a much stronger contrast between fast and slow sections than usual, and proving that the Dallas Symphony's strings are as adept as its brass and winds.
The third movement Scherzo starts out simply enough (nice, forwardly placed woodwinds), but things really pick up when the double basses and cellos dig in hard at the first meter change at about one minute into the movement. Litton takes his time with the famous posthorn solo (played on trumpet), but it's well worth lingering over as McDermott Hall has a special antechamber designed for offstage wind and percussion parts. As a result, the solo sounds like it's reverberating from "everywhere", yet it's also perfectly clear--thus realizing Mahler's sound picture to a tee. The coda to the Scherzo is sensational, with tons of harp, and with Litton's willingness to let the brass really take their time paying hugely atmospheric dividends. The last movement Adagio receives a long and lyrical treatment (exactly 26 minutes), superbly sustained by the strings, and with all of its climaxes gauged so as to offer no hint of strain or ugliness from the brass. The final brass chorale and closing pages really are executed with precisely the kind of "saturated, noble" sound that Mahler asks for, trumpets dominant but never shrill. Even the last note is held for just the right amount of time--not too long, not too short either.
This is a Mahler Third where nobody puts a foot wrong anywhere: conductor, orchestra, or the recording team. Yet it's executed with the kind of wild abandon that's so necessary to the success of the earlier movements. Delos provides an aural canvas that's perfectly balanced between the four principal sections of the orchestra. Neither is their "Virtual Reality" sound analytical or contrived in any way. Packaged in a slim line double case and priced two discs for the price of one, this new comer from Dallas easily enters the pantheon of great Mahler Third recordings, alongside Bernstein, the first Haitink, Levine, Salonen, and Kubelik.
We live without a doubt in a Mahlerian "Golden Age," and taken in tandem with their recent excellent "Resurrection" Symphony, Litton and Dallas are certainly on a roll. Mahler may have become the "common coin" of today's orchestral experience, but there's nothing common in what Litton and his band have achieved here. They offer a blend of fine playing and freshly idiomatic interpretation that is never for one second less than world class. Play this newcomer, and it will open your ears.
--Barry Guerrero, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 3 in D minor by Gustav Mahler
Nathalie Stutzmann (Alto)
Texas Boy's Choir Fort Worth,
Dallas Symphony Orchestra,
Dallas Symphony Chorus
Written: 1893-1896; Hamburg, Germany
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