In their original review back in 1995, the Gramophone complained about the pairing of Mahler's Sym. #3 and #6, but one can see Philips's reasoning. Ozawa's Mahler cycle was getting bad reviews, and with the acclaimed Jessye Norman to entice buyers, they might be willing to pay for the Sixth added as a single disc. The two readings date form live performances in 1992-93. The fact that Philips took eight years to roll out Ozawa's cycle indicates flagging enthusiasm. The cause isn't hard to find. Despite the virtues of great playing by the BSO and excellent sonics taped in Symphony Hall, Ozawa's Mahler tended to be mild-mannered, inconsistent, less than fully committed, and sometimes aimless.
Previous reviewers find these flaws displayed at their worst in the Sixth Sym., and I tend to agree. The first movement marches ahead in literal fashion with not much turbulence, much less tragic import. The Scherzo -- taken second -- contains some of Mahler's most withering writing, but Ozawa renders it toothless. He glosses over the moving Andante with a quick tempo and little feeling for the underlying emotions. The finale reverts to a sober literalism that renders the music too comfortable -- although it must be said that Haitink's recent account with the Chicago Sym. was even more plodding and got raves almost across the board.
The same reviewers here at Amazon who condemn the sixth want to snatch the Third out of the fire. I cannot disagree when it comes to Norman's singing; her sumptuous dark tone is ideal for the fourth movement, based on Nietzsche's mournful verse on the fate of mankind. She has only herself (in Abbado's first Mahler Third with the Vienna Phil. on DG) and Christa Ludwig to compete with for eloquence and rapturous singing. the fifth movement with boys' and women's chorus is also superb, the choral work as good as any on records, with Ozawa adding a light touch and buoyant rhythm. Norman is slightly staid but just as wonderful vocally. The melting lyricism of the finale brings forward the refined beauty in the strings of the BSO, and Ozawa finds a pace that sacrifices none of Mahler's sweet melancholy while still moving forward. the gentle, natural flow is very appealing. The great brass climax is given due intensity, also.
Are the three early movements up to this standard? In the first movement the variable Boston horn section comes through without difficulty, a good omen. But this massive movement is hard to hold together, and Ozawa resorts to a kind of literalism that marches from event to event without doing much else. On its own terms, however, it's very well executed, assuming that you don't mind having Mahler's highs and lows being trimmed off. Beauty of playing and a light touch deliver nicely in the second movement minuet, which is appealing in a graceful, balletic way. but for me, the touchstone of any Mahler Third is the captivating Wunderhorn world of the third movement. Ozawa enters trippingly, but he makes this rustic, highly imaginative music sound too polished; there's too much Mendelssohn and not enough Mahler. Not all the time, fortunately; the bumptious interjections are surprising and energetic. The very best thing is the famous posthorn interlude, which is delivered with haunting mystery and the kind of ease that never fails to bring tears.
The overall picture, then, is of a very bad bargain. Ozawa's Sixth is a detriment; his Third a very fine reading that has three movements to rival the best but three that are merely very good.