Mahler’s First and Second in this SACD cycle received excellent reviews, and the new offering is another winner, especially with its special price for the double-disc set. (Also appreciated is the new taller-spindle super jewel box which puts both discs together on the same spindle rather than on opposite sides of a folding plastic carrier.) The Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra is Switzerland’s oldest symphony orchestra and has made numerous recordings, including the complete Schumann Symphonies, the complete solo concertos and overtures of Beethoven, orchestral works of Richard Strauss and an award-winning set of all the Beethoven Symphonies.
The orchestra’s hall has fine acoustics and the same recording team of Chris Hazell and Simon Eadon handled this session as the last one. It is unclear whether the recordings were made during live concert performances or without an audience during the four days the recording sessions lasted. If the former, the Swiss audience is really attentive. Since the Living Stereo reissues are the only other SACDs now being released by RCA, I deduce that the European offices probably insisted on this release being a hybrid SACD rather than just CDs, due to the larger market for the format in Europe.
That this is one of the Mahler Symphonies most suited to surround sound recording is indicated by the fact that the very first four-channel prerecorded tape of a Mahler Symphony back in the mid-1950s was the Utah Symphony under Abravanel on Vanguard. The dense orchestrations of all the Mahler Symphonies are reason enough for surround; the over one hundred-member orchestra are utilized to the utmost thru most of the lengthy work. But the Third also has the contralto soloist, a children’s choir, and an adult choir. they are heard in the fourth movement, with lyric from Nietzche, and in the fifth with the text coming from a favorite Mahler source: Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Performance and surround sonics are first rate, with a rich depth and envelopment – especially in the choral sections. I personally lean toward a somewhat more emotional, less polite interpretation a la Bernstein and Tilson Thomas, but many will find Zinman their preference.
– John Sunier