MAHLER: Symphony No. 5 in C# minor.
Royal Concertgebouw Orch/Bernard Haitink, cond.
PENTATONE SACD PTC 5186 183 TT: 70:55

MAHLER: Symphony No. 3 in D minor
Birgit Remmert, contralto; Schweizer Kammerchor; Züricher Sängerknaben; Zurich Tonhalle Orch/David Zinman, cond.

DVORÁK: Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104. Symphonic Variations, Op. 78.
Pieter Wispelwey, cello; Budapest Festival Orch/Iván Fischer, cond.

When Bernard Haitink made this recording of Mahler's Symphony No. 5 for Philips in December 1970, and it was recorded in the then-new four-channel quadraphonic process. Many other Philips recordings of the era were recorded this way, and Pentatone has already released many of them in their original format, thanks to SACD. Produced by Jaap van Ginneken, who was responsible for most of the Philips Concertgebouw Orchestra recordings for many years, the sound on this recording is quite bright lacking the rich resonance of the hall, and there is little low bass. However, it does sounds better on SACD than it did in stereo, and is preferable to the conductor's later recordings of the same music in Berlin and France. And both interpretively and sonically the 1970 recording cannot match the magnificence of Haitink's live 1986 performance included in the Philips Dutch Masters 9-CD set of most of Mahler's major works in live performances (see REVIEW)—a set essential for everyone who loves the composer's music..

David Zinman continues his Mahler cycle with this excellent performance of Symphony No. 3, recorded during live performances February 27-March 1, 2006 in Zurich's Tonhalle (although a photo in the CD notes obviously is from a recording session). Zinman's first releases in this series (Symphonies 1 and 2) were mentioned on this site (REVIEW). The high standards of the first two releases are sustained in this beautifully-played performance that lacks only a more massive orchestral sonority in the grand climaxes. The posthorn solo in the third movement is played with great sensitivity (and very slow); it would have been effective in surround sound to have this more distanced from the orchestra, perhaps even from the rear, but that doesn't happen. The recording is comparatively low-level; you'll have to turn your volume controls up a bit. There is no applause (fortunately), and the two disks sell for the price of one. And, for sure, don't overlook Haitink's 1983 live recording of this work also included in the Mahler set mentioned above.

Dutch cellist Pieter Wispelwey is now a major figure on today's musical scene, and can be heard here in a live performance of Dvorák's Cello Concerto from a concert in December 2006 in Budapest's Palace of Arts. This is his second recording of the work—already issued is a live performance recorded in the Concertgebouw with the Netherlands Philharmonic conducted by Lawrence Renes, released on both Pentatone and the cellist's primary label, Channel Classics, but not on SACD. This later version is superlative in every way, easily among the top recordings of Dvorák's masterpiece, and the recorded sound could not be bettered. Iván Fischer and the first-class Budapest Festival Orchestra provide perfect accompaniment, and fill out the disk with a splendid performance of the composer's Symphonic Variations, doing what can be done for a rather lesser work of Dvorák. To quibble a bit, Channel Classics should do a bit of proof-reading; their bio on the cellist mentions a forthcoming release of the Dvorák concerto.

R.E.B. (January 2008)