August 2007

Mahler - Symphony No. 3 in D Minor
Michelle de Young, Chicago Symphony Orchestra; Bernard Haitink, conductor
CS Resound 901701
Format: CD
Released: 2007

by S. Andrea Sundaram

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

With this release, one of America's finest orchestras unveils its own independent CD label. For the past few years, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has not been under contract to any label, and has only been heard backing some of the world's most-renowned soloists. Now, the orchestra has embarked on a new project to release live recordings of significant performances both on physical media and through online distribution.

This initial album, recorded in October of 2006, captures Bernard Haitink's first performance as principal conductor of the CSO. There is no shortage of recordings of Mahler's Third Symphony from which to choose, but few of them have the sense of purpose of this reading. This is not an interpretation that pushes you forward; rather, it beckons you to come along, as Mahler did, on a journey to discover what nature, men, and angels have to tell. Here, the final movement is a passage of grandeur and beauty, whereas in the hands of lesser orchestras it often comes across as merely loud. It is with a flawless sense of proportion that the final chords of this performance overwhelm the senses.

The superior quality of the musicianship is almost matched by the quality of the sound. The orchestra for Mahler's Third is large, and that sense is thoroughly conveyed. Chicago's Symphony Center (it used to be called Orchestra Hall) can seem intimate from the main floor, though, in reality, it seats 2500. This recording places the listener closer to the ensemble than you might be accustomed to if you're used to hearing orchestras in more cavernous halls. The result is that every detail of the performance becomes obvious. The string sections sound like grouped individuals, not indistinctly placed blobs of sound. When the score calls for instruments to be placed off stage, their positions are clearly behind the rest of the orchestra. Low-frequency extension goes to the limits of what my monitor-style speakers can handle, and high frequencies are clean and airy within the limits of Red Book CD technology.