- Symphony No. 3 in D minor
Claudio Abbado recorded Mahler's Third Symphony once before, in 1980 with the Vienna Philharmonic and Jessye Norman, on a disc particularly noted for its spectacular sound. Here, in a live performance from London's Royal Festival Hall, Abbado returns to Mahler's sprawling, complex score (it is the longest symphony ever composed), this time leading the Berlin Philharmonic with contralto soloist Anna Larsson joining in for the Fourth and Fifth Movements. It must be said that the present recording's sound quality doesn't match the earlier disc's -- the sound is somewhat thin and diffused. It's a casualty, perhaps, of live recording, but with that also comes a wonderful spontaneity and, in a work as extravagant and powerful as this one, the thrill of "being in the moment." The Berlin players certainly live up to their billing as Europe's top orchestra, playing with enormous accomplishment. Brass, winds, and strings each have their moments to shine; the unison horns at the very beginning, for instance, sounding like burnished bronze, or the strings in the Minuet, which they carry off with exquisite delicacy. Abbado's direction is not urgent; he lets the music unfold rather than propel it forward through sheer force of will, à la Leonard Bernstein's classic 1961 account. That's not to say, however, that his reading lacks intensity, nor is it short on refinement. And by the end, one feels that Abbado has managed to mold this unruly work into a remarkably coherent, glorious whole. Anna Larsson is a superb soloist in the "Wunderhorn" and "Zarathustra" sections, and the stately finale is just as exalted -- and exhausting! -- as it should be. The three-and-a-half minutes of applause tacked on to the end may have been excessive on DG's part, but surely it merely reflects the sentiments of those who were lucky enough to be there.