Sponsored by Boeing, no less. Too bad there are no opportunities in this concert for me to speak of the music taking flight or soaring to the heavens. What a bargain, I thought. £0.97 + P&P for a quite recent digital concert of Mahler's 3rd with no less an authority than Bernard Haitink. Got to be worth a punt. How does that song go? "Cheap flights. Cheap flights..."
This CD gives plenty of ammunition to the anti-Haitink tendency. It is that spirit of detached (disinterested?) professionalism that can afflict his recordings. Nothing really wrong, everything in its place, mega-metropolitan orchestra on hand to polish off the notes, but the whole doesn't add up to, much less surpass, the sum of its parts. Mahler's 3rd is the great behemoth, the only symphony which must run onto a second disc. Brian's "Gothic" is longer but it gets by on deranged invention. To succeed we have to be convinced that our time is not wasted and that this music matters. No such luck on this occasion; indeed, the fact of its being a live recording is hard to believe. The giant first movement, 35:10 in Chicago, 32:09 in Amsterdam '66, made me think of a dream inside the mind of a coma patient. The word dream or dreamlike is normally used to imply something poetical but one thing that unites all dreamers is the fact their bodies lie flat and are going nowhere.
Switch over for the minuet and things perk up a little but this and the frolicsome scherzo are undercharacterized for my ears, to the point where you wonder whether anyone involved in the performance really wanted to be in this music. The two vocal movements are eloquently done, as is the langsam finale (24:39), itself so often the falling-off point. Expertly played and conducted, but on this occasion, Haitink's Mahler is rather heartless. People more used to the Bernstein effect should hear it and wonder at it.
Haitink's earlier and aforementioned 1966 RCO recording (Decca) is only available as a download or in the big Symphonies Edition box, itself well worth having. It has more eagerness, more life, more air about it. To the other interpretative extreme, try Bernstein or Tennstedt. Personally, I really like Mitropoulos (Cologne, live) and also Kubelik (DG box-set). For the objectivists, there's Abbado, Rattle, Boulez.
(Battering-ram timpani and at last we can escape.)