MAHLER: Symphony No. 3 in D minor "Nature."
Lilli Paasikivi, mezzo-soprano; Ladies of the London Philharmonic Choir; Tiffin Boys' Choir; Philharmonia Orch/Benjamin Zander, cond.
TELARC 2SACD 60599 (3 disks for the price of 1) TT: 33:55 & 65:32 +76:30 discussion

RAVEL: Daphnis and Chloé Suite No. 2. Pavane for a Dead Princess. Mother Goose Suite. La Valse. Boléro.
Cincinnati Symphony Orch/Paavo Järvi, cond.
TELARC SACD 60601 (F) TT: 63:00 (5.1 channel)

Whoever would have dreamed that in the early months of multi-channel sound there would be three recordings of Mahler's massive Symphony No. 3? Well, we have them, one with the San Francisco Symphony conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas (REVIEW), the other with the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Pierre Boulez (REVIEW). Thomas' recording won a Grammy as the finest classical recording of last year, an accolade I don't think it quite deserved, but it surely is a excellent and very well recorded, marred from a performance standpoint only by the wobbly mezzo soloist. The Boulez recording, which also won a Grammy as best orchestral album of the year, disappoints both in interpretation and sonics. This new Telarc issue is quite outstanding in every way. R.D. thought highly of the regular CD issue (REVIEW) and I agree with him. It's a fine, thoughtful performance with much attention to detail, virtuoso playing from the orchestra, and a strong mezzo soloist. The multi-channel sound is excellent. Recorded in London's Walthamstow Assembly Hall over three days in February/March 2003, the dynamic range is very wide, instruments well-balanced. Producers Elaine Martone and David St. George have provided only ambient hall sound from the rear speakers except for the fifth movement boys' chorus which is mostly in the back. I wish they had also placed the third movement's solo posthorn (here played by a flugelhorn) in the back, or at least partially in the rear; neither of the other recordings does this—and it would have been so effective! The symphony occupies two CDs; the third is conductor Zander's usual discussion of the music, with sonic illustrations. The three disks sell for the price of one. Quite a bargain!

Paavo Järvi's Ravel collection contains all of the composer's best-known works and is generous in playing time. The Cincinnati Symphony plays very well, but never produces a big sound. Ravel's incredible orchestration requires a warm cushion of strings not heard here, perhaps because of acoustics of Cincinnati's Music Hall where these performances were recorded February 9-10 and September 21, 2003. As usual with Telarc, dynamic range is wide, instrumental placement precise, with the expected very big bass drum whenever required by the score. There's magic in the excerpts from Mother Goose, Pavane, and Daphnis suite that eludes Jarvi; just listen to Martinon or Monteux, or many others, in this music. La Valse is appropriately langorous, but Boléro is much, much too fast. The latter, at 13:30, is amost three minutes (!) faster than the composer's own 1930 recording with the Lamoureux Orchestra.

R.E.B. (March 2004)