Bernard Haitink has had a long association with Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 3 in D minor, from his classic 1966 stereo recording with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra to his 2006 audiophile recording with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. This 2016 release on BR Klassik finds Haitink leading the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in a stirring live performance that shows no diminishment of the conductor's interpretive powers, and compares quite well with his previous renditions.
The presence of the young Mahler Chamber Orchestra and the decision by pianist Leif Ove Andsnes to conduct it from the keyboard may lead you to expect a smaller-scale performance than listeners actually get here, in this second album of Andsnes' "Beethoven Journey." Certainly this isn't keyboard-pounding Beethoven. The slow movement of the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58, has none of the giant-stomping-around quality it often received in golden-age recordings.
In October 2014, Michael Gielen issued a press release announcing that he had been forced to end his conducting activities for health reasons. On this occasion, and also with his 90th birthday in July 2017 in mind, it is time to listen to the different phases of a long conducting career. The Michael Gielen Edition offers this opportunity. It comprises several volumes of varying size, dedicated to individual composers or major historical periods. The recordings in this sixth volume have all been taken from the SWR’s Baden-Baden archive. Hence they are all performed by “his” orchestra, recently named the SWR Symphony Orchestra Baden-Baden and Freiburg. Presumably the earliest recording of a Mahler symphony conducted by Gielen was at a concert of the Hessischer Rundfunk (public broadcaster for the German state of Hessen), where the Fifth Symphony was played in December 1963, and his last recording of a Mahler symphony was the Sixth Symphony performed in a guest concert of the SWR Symphony Orchestra at the Salzburg Festival on August 21, 2013.
Like the growth of the cult of Christ, the growth of the cult of Mahler started with the man himself performing his works whenever and wherever he had the chance. Like Christ, Mahler was followed by true believers who had known him and who proselytized for him among the unbelievers with the fervor of musical Pentecostals. The true believers were followed by those who had never known the man himself but whose belief was therefore all the more passionate and subjective. And thus it was that the faith spread from Mahler to Walter, Klemperer, and Mengelberg; and then on to Mitropoulos, Bernstein, Kubelik, Solti, and Haitink; then on to Abbado, Bertini, Boulez, de Waart, Inbal, Maazel, and Rattle, spreading from the true believers to the passionate believers of the true believers to those who still keep the belief but whose faith is more reason than emotion, more intellect than spirit, more nuance than rapture.