MAHLER:  Symphony No. 3 in D Minor "Nature."  Kindertotenlieder.
Michelle DeYoung, mezzo-soprano; Women of the SFS Chorus; Pacific Boychoir; San Francisco Girls Chorus; San Francisco Symphony Orch/Michael Tilson Thomas, cond.
SAN FRANCISCO SYMPHONY 0003 (2 CDs) (5 channel)

THEOFANDIS: Rainbow Body. BARBER: Symphony No. 1, Op. 9. COPLAND: Appalachian Spring Suite. HIGDON: Blue Cathedral
Atlanta Symphony Orch/Robert Spano, cond.
TELARC SACD 60596 (F) (DDD) TT: 69:06

Mahler's Symphony No. 3 was recorded live at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco September 25-29, 2002; Kindertotenlieder was recorded a year earlier, September 19-23, 2001. This is the third release in the SFS Mahler series, joining the previous issued Symphony No. 1 (REVIEW) and Symphony No. 6 (REVIEW).  This performance of the gigantic Symphony No. 3 is an admirable effort very well played by the orchestra, but there's little excitement, even in the rousing march episodes in the dynamic first movement ("Summer Marches In.").  It's all too placid, and the brief contribution of mezzo-soprano DeYoung in the fifth movement is, to me, a minus factor.  Her voice has a wide vibrato that distracts even more than it did in her Minnesota Orchestra  recording of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde issued in late 1999 (REVIEW).  As she is featured in Kindertotenlieder ("Songs on the Deaths of Children"), this recording of Mahler's touching song cycle is not competitive in spite of Thomas's sensitive accompaniment. Surely this performance of Mahler's third symphony doesn't match Thomas's impressive 1990 recording with the LSO and Dame Janet Baker as soloist, still available on CBS Masterworks. Surround sound on the new SFS release is impressive, with the orchestra in front, ambient sound from the back.

Telarc has another winner in their new Atlanta SO/Robert Spano CD. The album takes its name from the first work, Rainbow Body, by Christopher Theofanidis. Scored for a large orchestra, this is the composer's tribute to music of medieval mystic Hildegard von Bingen based on one of her chants, "Ave Maria, O auctrix vite." Theofanidis finds her music "very sensual and intimate," and uses this chant frequently during this 13-minute work. There are fascinating sustained sonorities and an occasional impassioned outburst of sound always related to Bingin's music, reaching a grandiose climax. The other contemporary work is Jennifer Higdon's Blue Cathedral, commissioned by the Curtis Institute of Music to commemorate its 75th birthday. In this 12-minute piece Higdon symbolically represents "a journey through a glass cathedral in the sky," and includes solos for the clarinet (the instrument playe by her late brother) and the flute (her instrument). The committed performance of both of these feature superlatively playing by the Atlanta Symphony under their dynamic new - and young - conducor. The major works, Barber's rather brief Symphony No. 1 and a suite from Copland's Appalachian Spring, are equally well played, and the entire disk is beautifully recorded. As usual with Telarc, the orchestra is up front with ambient sound from the rear. The only debit to this release is the fact that the Copland ballet isn't tracked - most recordings of it are. If you wish to get to the lively "display" parts of the score, you'll have to do quite a bit of fast forwarding.

R.E.B. (June 2003)