I cannot remember now why my first Mahler LP was of the 3rd Symphony, but it was. I seem to recall I enjoyed the easy simplicity of the “Bim-Bam” movement. The first time I heard any Mahler was a Prom concert on the radio when I was 17. My music teacher, Eddie Dytham, mentioned how his daughter was a great Mahler enthusiast so I tried to listen to it. Mahler on the air, as in concert halls, was a pretty rare occurrence then. As I say, I tried to listen to it, but comprehended it not. It was his 8th Symphony, the so-called Symphony of a thousand, as I latter discovered, and not the best introduction to Maher’s music.
A few years later and Mahler swam again into view when Visconti’s film “Death in Venice” with Dirk Bogarde playing Aschenbach disguised as Mahler, was shown on TV. But it was the fifth, not the third symphony that one associates with this film.
Anyway, not long after this, I saw Ken Russell’s film “Mahler” at the local arts cinema and I was beginning to get a liking for this music. But performances of Mahler’s works were few and far between and something like the 3rd symphony, with it’s huge forces, was played so infrequently that one felt one had to fast beforehand as some sort of ritual preparation. The 3rd is the longest of Mahler’s symphonies, and that is saying something.
This was the time before the internet and music on demand; when, if you did not have or could not afford the record (and LPs were, relatively speaking, quite expensive) you had to wait until it was played on the radio. I used to scour the Radio Times every week, and circle the concerts I wanted to hear, which meant mostly the evening concert, and weekends – daytime listening was restricted because of work. But I remember an afternoon performance of Mahler’s 3rd was programmed. So I took the day off work to hear it.
Determined to hear this music again, I took myself off to Harrison’s music store (I think that was the name of the shop, I seem to remember a dapper gent in a bowtie, but more, often than not, I would be served by a statuesque lady, who could pass for Hattie Jacques) and I enquired about Mahler records. They recommended the Haitink boxes, but these were outside my price range, So I had to make do with Kubelik on DG. They also suggested I start with one of the easier symphonies, like No 4. But it was the 3rd I wanted.
Since then, Mahler has become fashionable and I have heard many of the symphonies live, on radio, on disc and online, including a trip to the Royal Festival Hall for a Sunday matinee performance of Mahler’s 3rd conducted by Haitink from which it took several hours to recover. Luckily I had gone with my friend Gev, who had to escort me out of the Hall afterwards and walk me round the South Bank until I could compose myself once more. Over the years there has been a tendency to over-sentimentalise Mahler with ever slower performances. Not so with Kubelik, and although this recording will no longer be my first choice it is refreshing to hear such direct, lively and unmawkish playing. Kubelik, unlike some conductors, lets the music speak for itself – cheerful in tempo and cheeky in expression.