Pierre Boulez / Anne Sofie von Otter / Wiener Philharmoniker

Mahler: Symphonie No. 3

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Who can hold together the mighty and majestic Mahler Third? Who can encompass its 90-minute length? Who can survive its evolutionary journey from inanimate rocks to singing angels? Who can exalt in its ecstasies and endure its terrors? Not Pierre Boulez, that's who. Brilliant as he is, skilled as he is, talented as he is, Boulez is simply not up to Mahler's Third. Or rather, he can conduct the work -- he can clarify its themes, codify its harmonies, and unify its diversities -- but he cannot comprehend, much less encompass, exalt, and endure the work. With the superb playing of the Vienna Philharmonic, Boulez can get from one end of the work to the other, but unfortunately he cannot make it mean anything. The "Great God Pan" of the opening movement is just a bombastic tune for eight trombones. The "Flowers of the Meadow" in the Tempo di Menuetto are just arabesques for the woodwinds. The "Animals of the Forest" in the Scherzando are just goofy jingles for the winds and strings. The "Voice of Humanity" in the Misterioso is just a moaning mezzo above swaying basses. The "Voices of Angels" in the Lustig are just little boys and women singing a folk song. And "The Voice of Love" in the closing Ruhevoll is just an enormous chorale for strings. Everything is in its place and everything makes sense and nothing much matters because for all his brilliance, skill, and talent, Boulez cannot breathe life into Mahler's Third. Deutsche Grammophon's digital sound is crisp and clean, but not particularly present.

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