MAHLER Symphony No 3 (Haitink)
It is only 10 years since Bernard Haitink launched the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s in-house label with a not dissimilar account of this very work. Like Iván Fischer, a recent rival whose sparky studio recording employs some overlapping personnel, Bernard Haitink knows how to pace Mahler’s lengthiest piece, albeit to rather different effect. The contrast is most marked in the colossal opening movement where surface incident is comparatively muted in Munich, the intention presumably to make it convince as an abstract structure. In what must be the conductor’s fifth (or is it sixth?) commercial recording, his Bavarian Radio forces boast the kind of assurance and fine tuning unavailable anywhere on the planet when he first taped the work in mid-1960s Amsterdam. That said, if this is music ‘about’ the seasonal reawakening of the material world, there are plainly losses as well as gains. Haitink’s latter-day music-making can be construed as blessedly devoid of egocentricity or merely somewhat dour. Abbado enthusiasts will detect a certain heaviness, Bernstein cultists a dearth of Mahlerian schmaltz.
While the performance feels most engaged when the music is in repose, the inner movements are more than adequately eloquent. The excellent posthorn solos in the third are credited to Martin Angerer, not as distanced as he might have been in the studio. Gerhild Romberger has an old fashioned contralto-ish timbre in the Nietzsche setting, where Haitink isn’t one to make a fashionable meal of the woodwind’s hinaufziehen (‘pull up’) markings. Despite relatively close scrutiny, the choirs sound lovely in the fifth movement and the finale has always been a Haitink speciality, plainly spoken and all the more moving for it. The majestic conclusion is presented without undue bombast yet there’s none of the apologetic reserve that seems to afflict recent rivals (even if you can tell it has been a long night for the players).
This is a live recording with audience noise and concluding applause suppressed. Heard in isolation the sound engineering comes across as full and true although the sonic superiority of Fischer on Channel Classics is readily apparent in comparative listening.