Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Symphony No.3 in D minor
Iris Vermillion (Mezzo), Frauenchor der Sing-Akademie,
Frauenchor des Bremer Theaters, Tolzer Knabenchor,
Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Bremen/Gunter Neuhold
Bella Musica - Antes Edition BM-CD 14.9005 [94.00]

More Mahler from Bremen. I have already reviewed Gunter Neuhold's recordings of the First and Second Symphonies on Antes Edition and now here is the Third, likewise the product of "live" performances. On the evidence of these three recordings Neuhold certainly seems consistent in his approach to Mahler. He is a direct and "no frills" interpreter, preferring to stress the symphonic line, the structure over the details, which is refreshing in his sharpness of focus and his unwillingness, or perhaps his inability, to impose himself too much on the music. However, Mahler is one composer where consistency over the whole or even part of the canon can be a real disadvantage. Each symphony is profoundly different from the one before it and an inability, or an unwillingness, to recognise this and trim the sails accordingly can get in the way, as ultimately it does so here. But Neuhold's approach certainly works to advantage in the first movement because that benefits from a firm hand on the tiller preventing Mahler's audacious imagination sprawling his ideas all over the place and binding together the episodes into the kind of kaleidoscopic parade he surely intended. Eyebrows might be raised at the thirty-one minute length but at no time does this appear rushed. Indeed I liked the very clipped brass in the funeral marches each time they appeared and there is some good forward momentum in those marches that depict the arrival of summer which comes as a very rude awakening indeed. Here too is the kind of raw penetration from the brass section that I felt was missing in the recent recording by Andrew Litton and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra on Delos (DE 3248). It's not "pretty" playing but it's very effective and apt playing. In this movement Neuhold also seems to fire his players with the kind of commitment that the too-complacent Dallas players lacked to depict the whole of nature as a craggy, hard-edged beast with appalling table manners. Listen to the "seize the day" opening on all eight horns for a statement of intent. The sound recording is a touch dry and bass shy and this means the lower string uprushes and primeval grumblings that are such a distinctive feature of this movement don't really come over with the kind of earth-shaking attack that they can, which is certainly a minus.

The rest of the performance doesn't quite live up to the promise shown in the first movement, however. This is where Neuhold's apparent inability to vary his approach lets him down. The great posthorn solos in the third movement are a case in point. These should be passages of great nostalgia and repose. Under Neuhold they are much too stiff and strict to really beguile. Too lacking in poetry to really stimulate the imagination, which is what Mahler is surely trying to do here. The rest of the movement suffers from much the same problem too. Nowhere did I feel Neuhold was aware of Mahler's own description of the movement "as if all nature were making faces and sticking out its tongue". Conversely in the fourth movement, a setting for Contralto of Nietzsche's "O Mensch" with a responsive Iris Vermillion well-placed, Neuhold instructs his solo oboist to observe literally Mahler's marking "hinaufziehen" which is a kind of upwards glissando that once heard is never forgotten but is seldom observed. A detail of playing I found surprising to hear in this kind of performance, I must say. In delivering this effect Neuhold's player is a little more discrete than Simon Rattle's in his EMI recording where the effect is also observed, and that is to be welcomed. I don't think there is any doubt Mahler wanted something different from the way this is usually played so I congratulate Neuhold for noticing it and presenting it so well, showing he can be aware of specific detail when he wants. I also admire the lusty singing he gets out of his boys' choirs in the fifth movement prior to the long finale. The latter receives a concentrated, noble interpretation with great line and is a fine antidote to the mawkishness that can sometimes creep in here. However, it doesn't really crown the performance with the kind of sustained legato the greatest interpreters of the symphony bring and so the effect is ultimately rather cold. Take the last five movements together, in effect Part II of the whole symphony, and Neuhold's overview brings the work home quite satisfactorily. Stop off to admire the various views and perspective on the way, however, and you will soon run out of aspects to admire, delight and move you.

The recorded sound is detailed and sharp but that slight dryness and lack of depth in the bass has to be taken into account right the way through the long work. As in the rest of the symphony the orchestral playing is alert and polished, but corporately lacking in the depth of response to be found in the greatest recordings of this work. These remain Barbirolli (BBC Legends BBCL 4004-7), Horenstein (Unicorn UKCD 2006/7 or in the Brilliant Classics boxed set), Bernstein (Sony) and Kubelik (DG) from the previous generation, with Rattle (EMI (56657) and Sinopoli (DG 447 051) from the present one. All these appear to be more flexible Mahler thinkers than Neuhold, more aware of the performing traditions, of digging into the music's guts.

Once again Gunter Neuhold is a persuasive guide to a Mahler symphony, not without merit or interest, but in the last analysis not challenging enough to the greatest versions.

Tony Duggan

Visit Tony Duggan's Mahler pages



Bella Musica Edition
Bella Musica Edition (Antes Edition)
Eisenbahnstr. 30
D-77815 BÜHL
Telephone: +49 (0)7223-98550
Telefax: +49 (0)7223-985566 

In the USA should be available via Qualiton

Return to Index

Reviews from previous months
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board.  Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.This is the only part of MusicWeb for which you will have to register.

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers: