Mahler - Symphony No 3
Michelle DeYoung (mez) Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh; Children’s Festival Chorus of Pittsburgh; Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra / Manfred Honeck
Exton OVCL00450 Buy now
In sonic terms this is right up there with Chailly’s Decca-engineered version as the most ear-popping in the current catalogue. The great cinemascopic vistas that are summoned up by those eight unison horns at the start are quite remarkable for their depth, breadth and thunderous immediacy. Manfred Honeck (clearly a Mahlerian to reckon with) and his engineers are especially impressive in catching the gaudy splendour of the first movement, with huge contrasts achieved between the lowering opening paragraph – where yawning trombone glissandos are more startling than I’ve ever heard them – and the fragrant green shoots of the emergent spring sweetly characterised by the Pittsburgh Symphony concertmaster. The orchestral playing is pretty tremendous throughout but especially in this first movement, where the Pittsburgh brass are mighty indeed. The Ivesian ‘rabble’ do their worst to raucous effect and I do so admire the journey that the solo trombone makes from craggy belligerence to poetic valediction.
Mahler’s flora and fauna then take centre stage, the former charming and pellucid, the latter duly robust, with ear-stretching distance for the magical offstage posthorn solos. On the controversial issue of the nocturnal cries from oboe and cor anglais in the misterioso Nietzsche setting, Honeck takes my view that Mahler’s direction ‘drawn upwards’ for the repeated semitone is intended as an expressive indication, not a literal ‘slide’ or portamento. Michelle DeYoung intones darkly.
The children’s chorus could for me be raunchier greeting the morning bells but, as their quirky bell-chime imitations fade from our hearing, the great Adagio emerges in wonderfully hushed consolation. On this point, is it not shocking that the early Bernstein account – still something of a classic – is still, I believe, only available in a packaging which splits the final two movements over two CDs, thus destroying Mahler’s dramatic segue? Does no one check these things? It is clearly marked attacca.
Honeck’s finale is reverential in the best sense, perhaps not quite achieving the highly personalised intensity of the Bernstein or the sheer luminosity of Chailly and the Concertgebouw. But he and his Pittsburgh players certainly assume the ascendancy with a series of heart-easing turns of phrase. The final pages are illuminating, not overbearing.
More than a little special, then, in marvellous sound. That could be the deciding factor for many. Edward Seckerson
Lipton, NYPO, Bernstein (12/62R) (SONY) SM2K61831
Lang, RCO, Chailly (8/04) (DECC) 475 5142DX2; 470 652-2DSA2