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Mahler: Symphony No. 3 - Vänskä

Mahler: Symphony No. 3 - Vänskä

BIS  BIS-2486 (2 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Jennifer Johnston (alto)
Minnesota Boychoir
Women of the Minnesota Chorale
Minnesota Orchestra
Osmo Vänskä (conductor)

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Review by Graham Williams - July 2, 2024

With this release Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota orchestra complete their epic project to record all ten Mahler symphonies for the BIS label. The journey began in June 2016 with Mahler’s 5th Symphony and continued with the 6th Symphony in November of the same year. A further five symphonies were recorded in subsequent years before the COVID-19 Pandemic threatened to derail the rest of the cycle. Fortunately, after three years, the recording sessions resumed with the 9th and 8th Symphonies – the latter being the final work performed and recorded by Vänskä before the end of his 19-year tenure as the orchestra’s Music Director.

In his new role as Conductor Laureate he returned in November 2020 to complete the ‘Mahler Project’ with this resplendent account of the 3rd Symphony, certainly the composer’s longest and in many respects most challenging composition for a conductor.

With a playing time of a little over 103 minutes Vänskä’s performance is marginally more spacious than a number of the other dozen recordings of the work available in high resolution sound, but its expansiveness is only really evident in the vast opening movement (35’52) where the conductor’s pacing allows each of the movement’s diverse and often wild sections to make their maximum impact (one such example being the huge glissandos he elicits in the brass from 4’24) without losing his grip on the overall structure. The magnificent playing of the Minnesota Orchestra, a major factor and a constant pleasure in each and every release in this Mahler cycle, is showcased again here. From the stentorian opening fanfare, delivered with supreme confidence by the Minnesota horns, to the eloquent trombone solos from R. Douglas Wright and the tumultuous closing pages of Part I (marked ‘mit höchster Kraft’) Vänskä’s players give their all.

The ‘Tempo di Menuetto ‘that opens Part II (originally titled ‘What the Flowers in the Meadow Tell Me’) is played with appropriate lightness and grace; Vänskä’s uncontroversial pacing allowing full appreciation of the superfine musicianship on display, especially from the woodwind. The characterful and occasionally sinister ‘Comodo. Scherzando’ that follows features an off-stage Dotzauer Fürst Pless Rotor 18915 valved posthorn in B flat (pictured in the booklet) appropriately distanced in the recording and expertly played by Manny Laureano whose trumpet playing excels throughout the Symphony.

The Nietzsche setting that comprises the 4th movement is sung movingly by Jennifer Johnston while the clear and well projected voices of the Minnesota Boyschoir and the women of the Minnesota Chorale bring appealing simplicity to the childlike Wunderhorn poem that follows.

It comes as no surprise that Vänskä’s unforced rendition of the finale puts the ultimate seal of quality on this performance. The Minnesota strings play with exquisite refinement as the music travels from opening serenity to the tonal intensity of the overwhelming final bars. In short, Vänskä’s reading has a magisterial grandeur and impressive focus that places it among the finest versions of this much recorded symphony.

Even taking for granted the usual high standards we have come to expect from BIS, the recording team of Vänskä’s long-time collaborators – producer Robert Suff and recording engineer Marion Schwebel – have excelled themselves here. The soundstage on these two 5.0 multi-channel SACDs is both wide and deep with an expertly judged balance between low level percussion detail and thunderous climaxes within the generous ambience of Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis.

This outstanding recording makes a fitting conclusion to Vänskä’s individual and sometimes controversial Mahler cycle.

Copyright © 2024 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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Comment by Gregory M. Walz - July 3, 2024 (1 of 1)

I wonder if the Minnesota Orchestra will continue making commercial recordings on the BIS record label with its new music director (since the start of the 2023-2024 season), Thomas Søndergård? He has recorded mostly for the Linn and Dacapo record labels. Søndergård is scheduled to conduct Shostakovich's Symphony No.11 with the orchestra on May 8-9, 2025. That could be a prospective candidate for a commercial recording - at least in my line of thinking.