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Reviews: Mahler: Symphony No. 3 - Chailly

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Reviews: 10

Review by peteyspambucket June 20, 2004 (1 of 3 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
Move to the head of the class. The performance here by Chailly and the RCOA overshadows recent SACDs from Boulez and MTT. This is the real deal. FINALLY!

I'll probably edit this review later with more detail, but for now, here are my quick thoughts thrown together.

Everything is so carefully thought out in this performance, and the playing is highly idiomatic. The bass drum will have cups moving on your coffee tables. Certain parts of the interpretation are exactly as called for in the score, and I am so thrilled that they were caught so vividly on this SACD. These are orchestral effects like glissandos, mutes, brass trills, dynamic effects, "Schalltrichter in die Hoehe" or "Schalltricther auf" (really comes through!!!!!), etc.

The brass are very nicely captured. The winds come out like a nice wind choir. The orchestral quality is very European and balanced with a lot of transparency, which is not typical of American orchestras and these days, even the VPO and the BPO don't have this quality very much any more. This has been so well recorded, that you will really be able to hear every part, just like you can in a concert hall.

In the 4th Movement, Petra Lang does a very nice job in her song, and the brass and bassoons have a wonderful ominous sound. In the 5th Movement, the women's chorus is very well captured and it moves along very nicely with wonderful energy.

The last movement, the jewel of the symphony (next to the first movement), is ravishing. You will not want it to end. The quiet sections are so lovingly shaped and filled with yearning. You can hear the vibrato of individual violin players at times. The dramatic and bitter utterances are very jarring and then soothed by the main theme with great sensitivity and Chailly gives the transitions a lot of space. The final chorale builds to a very satisfying climax. Chailly holds out the final note of the symphony just like Mahler wanted (a fermata, and with notations to not allow the sound to diminish at all, and not to have an abrupt release) and the effect is beautiful. At 22min, the final movement is timing-wise, faster than most, but it has great lyrical weight and speaks very much in that time.

I'm thrilled about this performance and this SACD! Although Chailly's Mahler cycle hasn't always had such great performances (the 8th, despite an awesome cast, was a huge disappointment), this one is really an achievement. If you don't know this piece, this performance will be an excellent introduction; and if you don't know Mahler very well, or have been a Mahler-naysayer, give this one a shot, because this is Mahler done "right". Up next, the 9th, and Chailly's cycle will be complete.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED without reservation. It's also priced much cheaper than the competition (and it's own Redbook-only version) at $18, so not only is it a great performance, it's a bargain, too.

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Review by jdaniel@jps.net July 16, 2004 (3 of 3 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
Iíve found Chaillyís previous Mahler installments to be a little frustrating: Heís got the Concertgebouw, a great acoustic, a great recording team; heís got a great sense of line and a keen enough ear to make the most of Mahlerís innumerable orchestral felicities. Whatís the problem? Chaillyís product is just a little too polite, well-heeled and plush for my tastes. Sheer beauty of the playing aside, his performances can be just plain boring at times. In the case of the new 3rd Iím happy to report that, with a few exceptions, thereís an added vibrancy, earthiness, and frission, that sets this performance apart from the rest of the cycle in a very satisfying way. A few observations follow regarding the symphonic movements that appeal to me the most. I will leave it to Mahlerians to dissect the symphony in whole.

Chailly, being a colorist, finds much to unearth in the first movít. Mahlerís pre-nature rumblings and grumblings are especially interesting and multi-hued; even the quiet percussion interjections are invested with an unusual amount of character. As nature awakens the Concertgebouw woodwinds and strings play gorgeously, but are adequately rustic as well. It is in the great midway march that I feel that Chailly loses a touch of momentum, (did Mahler request such a measured pace here?), and when that first great climactic outburst comes, itís huge, expansive, and well-balanced, but it doesnít make the lights dim, so to speak, as I think it should. (Though itís so well accommodated by the surround recordingÖmaybe Iím just used to having my teeth set on edge at such moments.) No complaints from this point on: the pacing, the playing, and the holding together of Mahlerís extraordinary kaliedoscopy of events is spellbinding. (In surround, you will be treated to a snare drum that retreats into the back of the hall at one point!)

The 3rd movít is a favorite of mine. Chailly and the Concertgebouw respond well to Mahlerís wind-dominated writing and the dreamy posthorn soloóin surround at leastófinally sounds as if itís coming from far oíer the hills. The coda--a shriek, horns and arpeggiated harps suggesting grand and mysterious vistas, and then the gargantuan, strangely indifferent caprice of an ending--never fails to amaze me. While the moment is BIG, Chailly keeps it all in line, quite literally. Just like my minor complaint with the outburst in the first movít, here too I wouldnít have minded a more dramatic punctuationóa hitting of the reset button; Chailly seems more concerned with keeping the finish-line in view through the spectacle. Architecture-first listeners may well prefer Chaillyís approach; I like a little more indulgence.

The Bim-bam 5th movít is a lot of fun. In surround the Childrenís choir arcs around each side of the listener, with Ms. Lang in the center. Langís voice is dark and rich, much like the overall sound of this recording. Iíve never heard the chromatically-sliding brass material sound so menacing, though the bass-drum and gong are presented, here and elsewhere, hyper-realistically. (I happen to like it that way.)

The opening strings of the 6th movít play with an unusual amount of intensity, and the light and shade with which they invest the music makes the first half especially interesting. When the brass takes over this chorale-like melody towards the end of the movít, I found myself marveling over the sheer lyricism of their playing, esp. the lead trumpet. Gorgeous. The final grand iteration of this material is just right: every quarter note is leaned upon just enough to keep things clearly delineated, but not so much so that the music sounds plodding. In surround the final drum and cymbal crash before the coda electrifies the air in the room! One last special moment: the quiet string tremolo that ushers in the coda has a rustic quality that clearly harkens back to the 1st movít, bringing everything full-circle.

This is a performance Iíll keep, and itís a must-hear in surround. The rear-channel levels are well-nigh perfectóI canít hear anything, (unless there are specific antiphonal effects), yet the front-to-back and left-to-right stage width is increased dramatically. Maybe Decca will have another golden age of recording with SACD surround. (Yes, Mahler prefers SACD to DVD-A. After all, he said that pictures of the mountains that inspired this symphony arenít necessary, the music alone says it allÖ.)

A technical note: This is the first surround recording in which a center channel, or at least a re-direction of the center channel material, may be necessary. Iíve been going without a center channel, with no problems so far; however with this recording, I could sense an ever-so-slight ďholeĒ in the middle of the soundstage which disappeared after re-directing the center material to the left and right speakers.

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Review by stvnharr July 16, 2004 (1 of 1 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
I don't really have much to add to the previous reviews other than my own WOW. I bought this disc after reading Peter's review, as I do not have any others in Chailly's Mahler cycle, and was well pleased with the SFS/MTT sacd, and have other Thirds in my cd collection. But WOW, what a recording this is, right to the top of the list of Mahler Thirds. The playing and the performance is just all so perfect.
And then there is the sound, which is clean and clear in spades. There is a very noticeable sound difference in sound between this disc and the MTT disc, and it is noticeable from the first notes. Both are DSD recordings, sound different.

Highly recommended!!!

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Review by nickc August 14, 2004 (1 of 1 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
I'll leave the detailed musical analysis to others though Chailly doesn't push as hard as the two versions I own (Bernstein/NYPO and Tennstedt/LPO); depending on your point of view this may be a good thing. What I will say is this is beautifully played.
Finally we have a real MC recording from the Concertgebouw, always one of my favourite venues for a big orchestral sound. Only the fifth movement could be counted controversial in that the boys choir comes from the side as well as the front speakers, but that is only 5 minutes out of 100.

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Review by lana September 22, 2004 (1 of 3 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
Among the fivestars-reviews I regret to let you know that my impression of the performance of this beautiful symphony is rather negative. I grew up with the performances of Haitink and also his performances on cd: well balanced and very dramatic,but this one is full of mannerism, in a negative way sophisticated and overdone. The Concertgebouw has a magnificent acoustic, but here I don't recognize it at all. Perhaps it's odd to prefer (in mc) MTT/SFS!

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Review by DrOctodivx October 22, 2004 (0 of 1 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
This is very nice performance, very clear sound. Vocals on third act not as stimulating as I was hoping, but the instrumentation and soundstage excellent. Highly recommended for those listeners looking for more subtle classical music. My appreciation for this piece has only increased across multiple listenings.

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Review by dschawv July 30, 2005 (1 of 2 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
Great Stuff.
This is an absolutely wonderful issue in this series.
Orchestral playing is outstanding.
Solid interpretation and the sonics are wonderful.
I have loved this symphony for a long time.
This confirms my belief in this as a wonderful listening experience.

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Review by Dr. O August 8, 2005 (6 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
A trully first-rate performance by one of the world's great orchestras! This should certainly be in the collection of each and every Mahler fan!

I find the sonics to be wonderful, specially in the "non-tutti" sections. At times - when the entire orchestra is playing - some of the clarity is slightly diminished. In this sense, I find the SFS recording to be better.

In terms of the interpretation offered by Chailly, it is very good. One element that I enjoy in MTT's version is how he is able to bring out that side of Mahler which was, in spite of all his polished urbanity, still decidedly bohemian. Staging and the purity of each individual line is also cleaner in the MTT version, though at times there are moments in this performance which are somewhat more engaging. Chailly is good in his ability to keep the "musical thread" moving forward through time, whereas with MTT there is a tendency to "milk" each section for it's own individual meaning and nuance. Two different styles and approaches - one not "better" than the other, but simply "different."

The Bach Suite is a delight, specially the Air - one of my all-time favorite compositions. How wonderful to have this included in this very satisfying CD!

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Review by threerandot June 5, 2007 (10 of 10 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Ricardo Chailly leads the Concertgebuow Orchestra in this majestic performance of Mahler's third symphony. The Bach fill-up is excellent as well.

Kräftig entschieden (Strong and decisive):
Ricardo Chailly proves to us that he is capable of giving us a first-rate performance in Mahler's third symphony.
The opening movement begins with one of Mahler's favorite devices, the March, with impressive horns, crisp percussion and deep, deep bass. Those with a subwoofer or large speakers are in for a treat. There is a feeling of desperation in this music and the powerful dynamics only heighten the emotions. The darker, more sinister moments with trumpets, bass and percussion are contrasted with gentler moments in the winds and violins. Piccolos, flutes, oboes and clarinets come through beautifully. You can also hear some of the deep bass coming from your rear speakers as well. There is a heroic and indominatable spirit in this music. At almost 35 minutes, in lesser hands, this first movement could peter out very quickly, but Chailly manages to keep the music moving with plenty of energy and momentum.

Tempo di Menuetto (In the tempo of a minuet)
After the tumultuous and dramatic first movement, we settle into the genial and sunny second movement. This minuet is filled with a Viennese charm and ease. The pizzicato strings and harps help set the mood. This is ebullient music making. I wish that the strings could come out just a bit more, but overall, this is a nice contrast to the first movement.

Comodo (Scherzando) (Comfortably, like a scherzo)
The third movement is filled with the joy and beauty of nature and is marked by colorful woodwinds and horns. The music has a rustic, dancelike character filled with the innocence and happiness of youth. The posthorn solos are the centerpiece of this movement. They are tender, lyrical and moving and will stick in your head. I appreciate the distance the listener is from the posthorn, almost as if it is calling us from the depths of the woods. French horns join in. It conjures up serene and peaceful feelings. The solo is broken by more rustic dances, but returns again later. The movement closes with exuberant climatic fanfares.

Sehr langsam--Misterioso (Very slowly, mysteriously)
Petra Lang's mezzo-soprano voice proves ideally suited to the mysterious fourth movement, filled with deep yearning and longing. The mood is serene, with soft french horns and strings. This is one of the most poignant moments in this entire symphony. It all ends with hushed strings. The recording captures the intimacy of this music making.

Lustig im Tempo und keck im Ausdruck (Cheerful in tempo and bold in expression)
The fifth movement features an all women's chorus singing a joyful song which contains material Mahler would later use in his fourth symphony. The tune is bright and genial.

Langsam--Ruhevoll--Empfunden (Slowly, tranquil, deeply felt)
The finale to this symphony begins with solemn and gentle strings. The music is tranquil, searching and hopeful. Chailly draws inspired playing from the Concertgebuow and this last movement is like one, long, giant breath. The music has depth, vulnerability and uncertainty, yet it is constantly building. We have followed the journey of this symphony and we are coming to its magnificent conclusion. The music ebbs, with a lone, solo flute, followed by trumpets, expressing hope. The music swells again, with passionate and shimmering strings, magnificent tympanis and blaring brass which builds towards a magnificent and heroic close.

I am very impressed with this excellent performance of Mahler's third and Chailly manages to keep this 100 minutes of music under control and always moving forward. The closing movement is in itself an incredible feat, like one long crontrolled climax. Truly inspired.

Since the Mahler symphony is too long to fit on one disc, there is the added bonus of the attractively played Bach Suite, arranged by Mahler. It contains the Overture, Rondeau and Badinerie from the Suite No. 2, as well as the Air and Gavottes I and II from the Suite No. 3. They are all beautifully played.

I. Overture: This is highlighted by the organ played by Richard Ram. Very impressive.
II. Rondeau and Badinerie: There is some nice harpsichord playing in the Rondeu and the flute playing in the Badinerie is first rate.
III. Air: This is also known as the very popular "Air on the G String". Strings are rich with the pizzicato in the bass pleasently caught.
IV. Gavottes I and II: These majestic Gavottes are played with great energy and enthusiasm. The brass is very impressively recorded. The same can be said for the rest of the orchestra and continuo.

This could very well be one recording of Mahler's third symphony that will sit on the shelf with other famous recordings of this symphony. An excellent recording, even if I would have preferred more air around the sound at times, as well as more body to the strings. Still, Chailly gets the most from the Concertgebuow players who really give it their all.

This set was released on two discs and the fact that it is priced as one full-price disc should make this purchase very attractive to Mahler fans. Add the excellent Bach Suite fill-up and you have a disc that makes for a very enjoyable evening of listening. Highly recommended.

(This review refers to the MCH portion of this disc.)

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Review by seth July 12, 2010 (7 of 7 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
This is a performance that is pretty much beyond reproach. In his third symphony Mahler began to push to sound of the orchestra beyond the comfort zone of romanticism. Case and point is the glissando oboe in the 4th movement. Just think for a moment how otherworldly that and the whole movement sounds. Throughout the symphony, and especially in the first movement, the brass and woodwinds are pushed to the front of the balance with all kinds of effects to the point that they shriek. And to conduct the symphony successfully, you have to be willing to embrace it as more radical than romantic. And Chailly does this with ease. The Concertgebouwís woodwinds pop-out right out, especially during the times when they are instructed to play with their ďbells up.Ē But this isnít to say they cannot capture the sheer beauty of the final movement.

Chaily has a clear vision of the symphonyís narrative logic. Thereís a lot of places where the symphony can drag, but every time I listen to the performances Chailly sinks his hooks into me in the first minutes and the next 100 go by in a flash. Throughout the orchestral playing is brilliant. The only reason I donít give the performance a 5/5 is because Michael Gielen is the master of pushing the orchestra to getting as close as possible to shrieking, as well as playing up various effects like the mutes and glissandos. He remains unsurpassed in the first movement.

The sound quality is outstanding. It's very big and warm, but unlike the RCO Live recordings, this recording has a better sense of clarity while maintaining the Concertgebouwís reverberant acoustics -- in my opinion the RCO Live recordings can sound muddy and cavernous (as a result of the hallís reverberant acoustics). The deep bass is quite impressive -- just listen to the bass drum in the first minute. The rear channels are also used quite effectively, such as to make the off-stage snare drum before the final reprise of the horn fan fair in the first movement sound off-stage. Instead of sounding like someone turned the volume down on it, it spatially sounds like itís coming from the right wing of the hall (though the Concertgebouw doesnít have wings). I guess itís hard to describe, but when you hear it, itís quite impressive. The Mezzo's voice is beautifully layered in with the orchestra -- it doesn't like sound like she was spot mic'd and then that was patched into the mix. It also sounds like Mahler's directions to place the choirs "in a high gallery" were followed. The sound of the boy's choir seems to wrap around the listener and the women's choir sounds to mostly come from the rear channels. And none of it comes off as gimmicky -- the sound in the rears aren't pumped up to point this out.

It looks like this recording is already out of print, so get it before it disappears into oblivion.

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