My favorite recordings of Gustav Mahler’s Third Symphony

A Listmania! list by Krzysztof Makosa (Warsaw, Poland)
The list author says: "M3 is a behemoth: It's reputed to be the longest symphony in the standard repertoire; it consists of as many as six movements that are “markedly different in character and construction” (Wikipedia); and it's all-encompassing in its pantheistic conception (just consider Mahler’s original titles for each movement: 1. “Pan Awakes, Summer Marches In”; 2. “What the Flowers in the Meadow Tell Me”; 3. “What the Animals in the Forrest Tell Me”; 4.”What Man Tells Me”; 5. “What Angels Tell Me”; 6. “What Love Tells Me”). Understandably, M3 calls for a) a conductor with a lively imagination and an unerring sense of structure, indispensable in this sprawling work; b) a brilliant virtuoso orchestra with sufficient panache and stamina to carry the whole thing off; c) a children’s choir imitating bells (bim-bam-bim-bam!) in perfect unison; d) an inspired alto; and e) an impeccably drilled female chorus. It goes without saying, then, that M3 is exceedingly difficult to bring off. Now, just like yourselves, I haven't heard all recordings of M3. The list of my woeful deficiencies is shamefully long and includes Horenstein, Salonen, Barbirolli, Abbado (live), MTT, Kubelik (Audite), Bertini, Leinsdorf, among many others. I must admit I enjoyed the renditions by Abbado (with the VPO), Mehta, Inbal, Tennstedt, Kubelik (DG) and even Wit (the latter exclusively due to the sensational contralto Ewa Podleś). However, fine as those recordings are, I don't think they merit inclusion in the Hall of Fame. As for the interpretations by Messrs. Boulez (SACD), Nagano, Rattle and Solti, I find them disappointing on all counts."
Mahler: Symphony No. 3 in D Minor
1.  Mahler: Symphony No. 3 in D Minor by Christa Ludwig
The list author says:
  "LB practically owned this symphony, having produced two seminal interpretations of it. To me, however, his live recording surpasses the former studio traversal technically as well as sonically. For reasons I explain in my intro, this gargantuan work found an ideal interpreter in L. Bernstein and the NYPO, an unquestionably great Mahler orchestra. Excellent digital sound."
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Mahler: Symphony No. 3 / Ruckert-Lieder / Kindertotenlieder
2.  Mahler: Symphony No. 3 / Ruckert-Lieder / Kindertotenlieder by Gustav Mahler
The list author says:
  "A definite highlight of LB's first integral set of Mahler symphonies. Music fans continue to hold heated debates over the relative merits and demerits of the two LB versions of M3. Take my advice and get them both, as interpretively they are terrific – unless you're averse to LB’s Mahler. Good analogue sound, though nowhere near as good as on the later DG recording."
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Mahler: Symphony No. 3 / Debussy: La Mer
3.  Mahler: Symphony No. 3 / Debussy: La Mer by Lucretia West
The list author says:
  "This valedictory performance, recorded live in 1960, is not just of historic value. It’s a one-of-a-kind reading, full of despair and foreboding, which is no wonder, as the ailing conductor suffered a heart attack during the first movement and died 2 days later. Strangely, some critics hold it in low esteem, but I treasure it as a unique listening experience. Fine monaural sound."
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Mahler: Symphony No. 3
4.  Mahler: Symphony No. 3 by Gustav Mahler
The list author says:
  "Compare this 1986 live recording to the better-known studio account, and you’ll see why Tennstedt was reputed to be in his element while performing live. Surely, this must be among the most energetic and intense readings of M3! The brisk opening movement is nicely contrasted with the last one - which is “slow, tranquil and deeply felt,” just as Mahler wanted it to be. Superb stereo sound."
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Symphony 3
5.  Symphony 3 by A. Mahler
The list author says:
  "Although I consider Haitink’s set of Mahler’s symphonies a little dull (except for M3 and M9), this recording is a treasure. The magnificent Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Canadian contralto Maureen Forrester are particularly outstanding. BH's recording of the youthful cantata “Das klagende Lied,” which Philips generously included on this twofer, is superb. Fine analogue sound."
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James Levine Conducts Mahler: Symphonies Nos. 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9 & 10
6.  James Levine Conducts Mahler: Symphonies Nos. 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9 & 10 by Gustav Mahler
The list author says:
  "Music fans who associate JL with opera and the Met will be amazed to find what a great Mahler interpreter he was when barely out of his teens, so to speak. In fact, JL’s reading of M3 rivals LB’s accounts for virtuosity and power. Do yourselves a favor and get this inexpensive set. Fine analogue sound. (Sony has it wrong: This M3 was recorded by the Chicago SO, not the Philadelphia Orchestra)"
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Mahler: Symphony No. 3 / Bach Suite
7.  Mahler: Symphony No. 3 / Bach Suite by Gustav Mahler
The list author says:
  "I'm not a fan of RC’s set of Mahler symphonies. For all its undeniable technical as well as sonic brilliance, it strikes me as tame and contrived. That said, I do have a soft spot for Chailly’s M3 in SACD format and find it useful whenever I'm in a mood to intoxicate myself with the sound of a mighty Mahler symphony or scare the living daylights out of my philistine neighbors."
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Krzysztof Makosa (Warsaw, Poland)
Qualifications: Music fan
Last updated: 4/11/12
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