Although a bit smaller in performing size than his great Second Symphony, Mahler in his Third pulled out all the stops for a sprawling work running over an hour and a half, and clearly living up to the composer’s dictum that “the symphony must be like the world. It must embrace everything.” With its alto soloist and the boys’ and women’s choirs, the work demands surround sound presentation. In fact it was the first classical work in four channels I ever heard on tape as one of Vanguard’s first releases with the Utah Symphony around 1970, and most effective it was.
This is an extremely environmental symphony, with six movements all touching on nature in one way or another. There are sounds of birdcalls, the wind and similar effects. The fourth and fifth short movements make use of the soloist and choirs, employing lyrics taken from Nietzsche in the first and from one of the folk poems Mahler had set as songs with orchestra, Des Knaben Wunderhorn, in the case of the second. Alto Larsson displays a lovely voice and delivery.
Gergiev emphasizes the dramatic aspects of the work strongly, but also delivers the many contrasting quieter passages with touching gentleness. The impact of the big climaxes – and there are many – come across impressively in the live recording made last year at London’s Barbican. In comparison with the San Francisco Symphony’s version on their own SACD label, Gergiev strikes more dramatic fire from the score in the big climaxes, but the SF Symphony double-disc also includes the complete Kindertotenlieder – something to consider.
– John Sunier