By the time Gustav Mahler had arrived at the composition of his Symphony No.3, he had already gained experience in the form of the choral symphony. The preceding Symphony No.2 (“The Resurrection”) was a huge work for orchestra, chorus, and vocal soloists. The Symphony No. 3, Mahler’s longest, eschews the traditional four-movement format for six movements: (1) Pan awakes, summer marches in; (2) What the flowers in the meadows tell me; (3) What the animals in the forest tell me (with the famous post-horn solo); (4) What man tells me; (5) What the angels tell me; (6) What love tells me. The mezzo-soprano soloist (Waltraud Meier) appears in the fourth movement and intones “O Mensch, Gib Acht” (Oh Man, Take Heed) from Nietzche’s Also Sprach Zarathustra. The fifth movement features children’s and adult choruses (Limburger Domsingknaben and MDR-Rundfunkchor Leipzig) singing “Es sungen drei engel” (There were three angels singing) from the poetry collection, Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Concluding with a Mahler signature slow movement that is simply gorgeous, this work covers a universe of nature, love, and spirituality.
The Symphony No. 4 has a soprano soloist (Genia Kuhmeier) who sings the hymn “Das himmlische Leben” (The Heavenly Life) also taken from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Its apparent innocence belies the fact that it portrays the slaughter of a lamb (Jesus) by Herod. The mood of this shorter work begins on a jovial note with sleigh bells. The mood shifts sharply in the next movement with a solo violin portraying “Death the Fiddler.” The third movement is an otherworldly adagio that contrasts sharply with the vocal finale.
Estonian maestro Paavo Järvi, son of the world-renowned conductor Neemi Järvi, is the principal conductor of the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra. The performances on this Blu-ray Disc date respectively from 2007 and 2008 and were recorded in the sonorous Kloster Eberbach, a former Cistercian monastery in the Rheingau region of Germany. Järvi’s good relationship with his players is obvious and he extracts the very last word in pathos while demonstrating a profound understanding of the Mahler musical idiom.
Video director Michael Ciniselli was a name unfamiliar to me but his camera crew’s work gives us a good mix of close ups and distant shots with some very intimate scenic highlights of the orchestral soloists. Colors are very natural and details quite decent, although the distant images looked a touch softer than usual.
The acoustics of the monastery and its lofty ceiling yield a fair bit of echo that is picked up quite nicely in the surround channels. The low end of the sound spectrum, particularly bass and drums is very full-bodied. Orchestral details and sonorities are well presented and the overall warmth of the ensemble is quite close to what I expect when I attend a live concert performance.
There is the usual excellent C Major program booklet with background essays on the two symphonies, the conductor, and the orchestra. There are two brief featurettes on each symphony narrated by Paavo Jarvi who gives his personal insights into both of these works:
- Symphony No. 3 (English LPCM Stereo 48kHz/16-bit) (8:29)
- Symphony No. 4 (English LPCM Stereo 48kHz/16-bit) (9:12)
- C Major trailers
The Definitive Word
This is the Blu-ray premiere for the Mahler Symphony No. 3 and it is one corker of a performance, setting the bar pretty high for any successor. The stars seemed to align perfectly for orchestra, soloist and choruses. Järvi’s treatment of this sprawling account of love, nature and pantheism is spot on. As regards the Symphony No.4, the competition is quite stiff with a superb account by Riccardo Chailly and his Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and a “five-disc” reading by the late Claudio Abbado and his Lucerne Festival forces. Both of these previous releases are literally in a class by themselves. That aside, I would get this disc for the third symphony alone and consider the fourth symphony as a “bonus.”