Mahler’s Third Symphony is a sprawling, evening-long monster of a piece. Nothing else can or should be programmed with it; once it is over, there is nothing more to be said. It is also the composer’s break-out work, despite the obvious power and accomplishment exhibited by his previous symphonies. In the First and Second Symphonies, Mahler focuses on himself: on his rebellions against conventions and stultifications of society in the First, and against the notion of mortality and the limitations of the human condition in the Second. All of this is expressed as the musical response of a deeply sensitive and conflicted individual. The break-out achieved by the Third is its transcendence of the individual; Mahler succeeds in identifying his compositional voice or musical persona with the entire cosmos, from the life forms of nature to the mysteries of humanity and of the divine to the transcendent force of love. Obviously, there is still a great deal in this that is personal, but the intensity of feeling which is so magisterially developed belongs to the composition, not the composer. For this reason, I also find this a more powerful and convincing work, despite some roughness in design: its intentions lack all traces of self-indulgence.
For a good part of this reviewer’s life, it would seem, the world has been waiting for a truly great International French symphony orchestra. At mid-century, a general feeling was that the Boston Symphony under Sergei Koussevitzky and Charles Munch carried the torch for French music, ably assisted by Paul Paray in Detroit, Pierre Monteux wherever he could be found, and, on disc, by L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Geneva.
An hour before Part I of Les Troyens was to begin, I found myself wandering peacefully and somewhat aimlessly among the trees. The grounds were still unpopulated and quiet, providing an exceptionally favorable atmosphere for music. The first two acts of Berlioz’ epic masterpiece which awaited us are hardly what one would call contemplative music, but a contemplative mood seemed the right preparation for the violent, burning sweep of Berlioz’ romantic tableaux of the fall of Troy. It gave me an hour of so to forget whatever baggage I had brought with me, which amounted to some scepticism as to whether a Tanglewood reprise of the massive, impressive, but flawed effort of late April and early May would make much of a difference.