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MAHLER: Symphony No. 3 - Philharmonia Orchestra. Benjamin Zander conductor. Telarc . 3 discs, SACD-60599: MARCH 2004

Peter Bates, Audiophile, March 2004

Some orchestral works are natural candidates for SACD recordings. Mahler's Symphony No. 3 is certainly one of them. I need only to provide one example: the posthorn solo in III. This pianissimo moment makes such exquisite use of the rear speakers and yet sounds so wimpy through a standard speaker system, that it almost justifies the purchase of a new SACD system. It is a haunting and serene moment in a symphony filled with a mixture of joyous, bizarre, eerie, beautiful and raucous ones. I've always felt this symphony (the world's longest according to Guiness) is best absorbed in two listenings.
Benjamin Zander's approach to the symphony can also be summed up in how well he handles III ("What the animals in the forest tell me") and IV ("What humanity tells me"). The sprightly four-note cuckoo melody on the clarinet, borrowed from one of Mahler's songs, has a wispy dissonance, but is expertly transformed into a rude orchestral fortissimo. This is followed by the intensely disquieting IV consisting of Nietzsche's poem from Thus Spake Zarathustra. Zander correctly interprets the oboe's spooky two note figure as a glissando, certainly one of the more crepuscular moments in 19th-century music. It sounds like a night bird calling to its fallen mate. Like the other Mahler symphonies in this series, Telarc includes Zander's commentary, which is both enlightening and entertaining. He is a creative and engaging pedagogue, perhaps not quite on Leonard Bernstein's level, but worth listening to after you hear the piece for the first time. [I would add that Zander's talk is also lengthy - the maximum time for a disc side - that it is unforunately in 44.1 form rather than SACD, but the added disc is essentially free since this is priced as a two-disc set rather than three...Ed.]

--Peter Bates


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