broadcast now available online of Mahler's Symphony No 3 conducted by Simon Rattle in Berlin earlier this month (Full concert also available in the Berliner Philhamoniker digital concert hall). McWilliams knows what he's talking about, since he's a 26 year veteran of the orchestra. He speaks of "new altitudes reached...new base camps established for ever higher ascents". Interesting words, for this performance really feels embedded in the mountains, which meant so much to Mahler.
With these fundamentals established, the next sections can be more relaxed., literally "ohne hast". The Berliners do the details with great lyricism. Birdsong, flourishes on the clarinet like moments from Das himmmlische Leben. circular shapes that dance. It feels like open alpine meadow, the solo violin playing exqusitely nostalgic melodies. Yet no stasis. The offstage trumpets call, from the "heavens" above, answered by the brass in the "earthly" orchestra. Both exqusitely beautiful in this performance. Yet immediately the mood is cut by Dionysian swagger. Summer rushes forth with unstoppable vigour - listen to the brass repeat the birdsong, but with sass and rude health. Kukuk ist tod, kukuk ist tod - but not for the moment! Summer is short in the mountains, as the lingering call of the distant brass reminds us. But while it's here it's glorious, as the rush at the end of the second movement reminds us.
Natalie Stutzmann's voice doesn't lend itself easily to many parts of the repertoire but her O Mensch is perfection. Stutzmann doesn't do diva. In a piece as deep as this the emphasis must be on meaning, not magnificence. Stutzmann's lack of self consciousness is wonderful. She realizes that outward appearances are irrelevant, almost offensive, for what Mahler is getting at here is the sublimation of ego, Stutzmann is wonderful because she sounds like a primeval spirit, an earth goddess, perhaps, a darker version of Dionysius. The flute winds round her voice at once seductive and malevolent, snake-like. It feels like a lament from the beginning of time, as clarinet and horn take up the wailing theme, interspersed with whip-like string interjections.
Stutzmann's so powerful that she infuses the glorious final movement with graciousness. All round her the bright, cheerful voices of the boys in the Berlin State and Cathedral Choir and the women of the Berlin Radio Chorus. Ecstatic happiness, yet an apotheosis won at a cost, as Stutzmann's dignity reminds us. The bimm-bamms are angels and church bells tolling, as they do in the Alps, but there's also something much deeper in this performance. It feels like a communion with the essence of nature where man's tribulations are rendered trivial. Transcendence of the self:, the spirit of nearly all Mahler. Das Lied von der Erde looms into view. Rattle and the Berliners are onto something profound, completely against the current trend towards soft centred performance practice, but more in tune with serious Mahler scholarship. Mahler couldn't stand the cosy social whirl of cities like Vienna, and couldn't wait to get away.
Please also see Miltant Marching Mahler Eugen Szenkar's 1951 recording of Mahler 3.
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