In the end, Gustav Mahler decided against tacking programmatic labels on this longest of his characteristically supersized symphonies, but in a letter known to (and quoted by) every annotator, he shared what was going through his mind in the throes of composition. These were working titles for the individual movements: I. Pan Awakes, Summer Marches In. II. What the Flowers in the Meadow Tell Me. III. What the Animals in the Forest Tell Me. IV. What Man Tells Me. V. What the Angels Tell Me. VI. What Love Tells Me. As an umbrella title for the whole, Mahler liked “Ein Sommermittagtraum,” patently a play on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, time-shifted to a summer’s afternoon. There are other differences, too. Where Shakespeare’s cosmology in the work at hand is pagan, Mahler’s is Christian, and while Nature is backdrop for Shakespeare’s players, Nature is everything to Mahler, whose Third is a religious experience. Officiating at the Berlin Philharmonic, with the seraphic Elīna Garanča along for the brief but crucial solo, Yannick Nézet-Séguin should make it a joyous one. —M.G.
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