Opinions differ on how to interpret Mahler
's "Symphony No. 3," a work of such convoluted material, extreme contrasts, and immense proportions that it inevitably invites disagreements. But few can deny that Benjamin Zander has elicited a brilliant performance from the Philharmonia Orchestra
, or that his reading is thoughtful and provocative in the best sense. Zander makes a convincing case for reviving Mahler's original mystical program, and reveals the High Romantic side of the composer, with all his conflicting characteristics combined in a splendid paean to Nature. This intensely focused performance is informed by an acute awareness of Mahler's stated intentions; of motivic correspondences between movements; of external influences, both musical and cultural; and, most importantly, of the explicit directions in the score that give the work its vivid timbral distinctions. Zander delivers the symphony with color, passion and a sense of authority, and all its warring elements cohere into a unified whole. Lilli Paasikivi
, heard in the fourth and fifth movements, is wonderfully controlled, and the women's and boys' choruses are bright and angelic. Telarc's sound is breathtaking, so volume should be set at a safe level to avoid surprises. A fascinating spoken word CD comes with the set, wherein Zander explains the symphony's development and historical context with appealing enthusiasm.