This performance of Mahler’s Third Symphony was the first concert in the LSO’s complete cycle of Mahler symphonies. ‘Gergiev’s Mahler’, as it was billed, proved a big box office draw and Mahler’s Third a suitably spectacular place to start.
The symphony is scored for an expanded orchestra with eight horns at its centre, plus an alto soloist, boys’ choir and female chorus. Divided into two parts, it was intended to be a programmatic work, depicting a progression from the forces of nature (Part 1) to a higher state (Part 2). Lasting more than ninety minutes, the symphony makes a whole evening in the concert hall.
The work’s proportions are interesting because the first movement (Part 1) is longer than most pre-Beethoven symphonies. Dark and mysterious, it is notable for an extended trombone solo (played here with extraordinary colour and poise by Dudley Bright), and sinister, muted trumpet calls. Gergiev’s reading of it is spine tingling – this is a truly arresting opening which evokes nature in all its bristling uncertainty.
Part 2 of the symphony traces the transition to a more benign world view. It begins with a delicate ‘Tempo di Menuetto’ which whirls off into different time signatures and into a third movement where Mahler seems to reminisce over the music of his youth (cue folk tunes and brass bands). The fourth and fifth movements are settings of texts taken from Nietzsche’s ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’ and the collection of anonymous German folk poems known as ‘Des Knaben Wunderhorn’. We therefore have Nietzsche’s dark musings on eternity followed by children’s voices, mimicking bells and proclaiming heavenly joy.
The final movement is one of Mahler’s classic soliloquies on the meaning of existence - endless string phrases which could be milked for every drop of emotion but which Gergiev articulates with admirable restraint. Throughout this recording the LSO displays eloquence and passion, realising Gergiev’s singular artistic vision with some extraordinary playing.
James Mallinson, LSO Live Producer
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