MAHLER Symphony No 3 (Mehta)
Arriving simultaneously with the news that Lahav Shani is to succeed Zubin Mehta at the helm of the Israel Philharmonic, this recording celebrates one of music’s longest-lasting partnerships. Mehta first conducted the orchestra way back in 1961, a late replacement for Eugene Ormandy, which may prompt the reflection that, like Ormandy at Philadelphia, he has perhaps stayed too long. By 2019 he will have clocked up 50 years as music advisor, 42 as music director.
We don’t necessarily think of this consummate political funambulist as a Mahler man, his genial nature seemingly at odds with the composer’s angst-ridden sensibility. However, if we include a 2008 performance accessible via the Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall, this is Mehta’s fifth commercial recording of his favourite Mahler symphony. It isn’t even his first with the Israel Philharmonic. Older collectors may recall his earliest LP set, for Decca, and not only because of the sterling, Erda-like contribution of Maureen Forrester. In the old days you had to turn over the disc part-way through the first movement!
Under Mehta’s latter-day direction Mahler’s invention is apt to turn perky, the opening movement no longer an exercise in dynamic extremes, the second full of sunlight albeit not ideally polished. In the third the posthorn solos ought to sound further away; and why apply the brakes for the concluding outburst? Later, you may wonder why Mehta didn’t insist on a soloist with a more contralto-ish timbre than Mihoko Fujimura’s, not that her (over-miked) singing isn’t very fine in its way. Mahler’s controversial hinaufziehen (‘pull up’) markings are rendered as zany glissandos. Only in the finale does Mehta’s good-natured approach pay substantial dividends. Avoiding a self-conscious quest for transcendence, the argument moves more urgently than in Los Angeles, 1978, the final triumph notably unembarrassed, young man’s music.
Iván Fischer’s Budapest studio production offers greater refinement, deeper sonic perspectives and none of the bronchial noises-off afflicting the present live issue, but then Helicon are going for a particular demographic. In addition to large-print texts and translations, the booklet contains 10 pictures of the handsome octogenarian.