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MONUMENTAL ACHIEVEMENTS

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Some thoughts on Bernstein's recordings of the Mahler symphonies -
by DAVID WILKINS

 

<< Continued from yesterday

All of the quirkiness -- passion, pathos, banality and humour that Bernstein so loved in Mahler are abundantly celebrated in the two recordings of the Third Symphony. Again, a stopwatch would indicate little difference (though the finale has slowed by almost three minutes) and, certainly, the spirit of the two is similar. There is here a sense, though, that the enhanced skills of a further 26 years of conducting experience have enabled Bernstein to handle the twists and turns of the extended and episodic first movement more adroitly. More adroitly but, perhaps, less adventurously. There is also the growth of the New York Philharmonic's familiarity with this vast work between 1961 and 1987 to take into account.

Leonard Bernstein - Mahler - Symphony No 3. Copyright (c) Sony Music Entertainment Inc

In the second and third movements, Bernstein tiptoes through the fairy-forests where others seem to be endorsing Doc Martens. The posthorn solo is more romantically hazy in 1987 than it was ersatz-rustic in 1961. Christa Ludwig plumbs depths in the Zarathustra movement that just elude Martha Lipton on Sony but the boys and women sparkle equally well in both versions. The glorious endless-melody that constitutes the 'hymn to love' finale is, often, a triumph of sustained legato from the NYPO strings twice visited [listen -- Sony disc 5 track 6, 3:30-4:30]. By a whisker, I'm inclined to favour the earlier (Sony) recording where the brass are more fallible but the sense of a homecoming -- long sought and gratefully achieved -- feels more natural. Only by an even thinner whisker, and in pursuit of greater textual exactitude, would I sacrifice my fondness for the cumulative power of Horenstein's LSO version. For such wealth of choice -- many thanks!

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Copyright © 27 August 2001 David Wilkins, Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK

 

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