Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection"

Gabriele Maria Ronge (Soprano)
Delores Ziegler (Alto)
Chor des NDR; Chor des Bremer Theaters,
Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Bremen/Gunter Neuhold

Gunter Neuhold was impressive in Mahler's First Symphony on this label so I was pleased to have the opportunity of hearing him in the Second. As I said in my review of the earlier work (BM-CD 31.9042) it's easy to overlook labels, conductors and orchestras with whom we may be unfamiliar, and that would be a pity for here again is a recording worth considering even among stiff competition.

The first movement is rugged and dramatic with a fine sense of line even in the ascending second theme and also the pastoral interlude at 129-146 that here manages to be febrile and nervy. This is not the soft-grained passage some versions give us. In the passage 74-96 note the sour brass and the "snarls" as the music settles down prior to the first development. It's as if Neuhold doesn't want to linger too much and yet he still manages to maintain a sense of space. At the opening of the second development, launched with some vivid timps, Neuhold demonstrates the importance of having his eyes set firmly on the great recapitulation crisis at 295-328 and so takes us there in an unbroken sequence. The great chords themselves arrive clean and true, though perhaps a little too controlled, but resolve the symphonic argument sufficiently into the long winding down to the coda. Other versions probe a lot deeper into the music, search and explore its possibilities more, where Neuhold seems concerned with an "up-front", no-frills presentation. That's refreshing in itself, though I think it leaves us short of greatness. The movement doesn't really pin itself to the mind in the way that great Mahler recordings can. The strings lack some body and some expressive power as well, but this first movement still sets us up well for what is to come.

In the second movement I liked the way Neuhold gets his cellos to express themselves but largely there is the same sharpness of focus heard in the first movement. In the third movement Neuhold delivers a good contrast with what has just gone. There is fine woodwind playing to deliver Mahler's weird colours too and the brass adds glitter in their outbursts, not least at the climax with Mahler's "cry of disgust" where the woodwind flurries also put me in mind of the old Fried recording from 1926.

In the fourth movement Delores Ziegler is a mezzo to watch in the future and she leads us into a final movement that opens with some grandeur. I was also struck by the excellent placing of the off-stage brass calls as the music settles down for its great journey to glory. In fact, right the way through, this "live" performance is balanced well by the sound engineers. Neuhold also shows himself the master of line even though, as in the first movement, this is at the expense of really testing and exploring the music in the way that Otto Klemperer, for example, does so unforgettably in all of his recordings. At 62-67 the first statement of the Dies Irae theme is moved along and though this certainly adds to the idea of the unfolding of a story it also reduces its portentous quality. However it's important to keep all the disparate elements of this movement together and Neuhold certainly does that so attention never flags. Neuhold is also good at balancing the various strands that Mahler lays on top of each other. In the passage 99-141, for example, the first appearance of the "Oh glaube" material shows this to fine effect. The two great percussion crescendi that come a little later could have more power to them (listen to Rattle here for maximum power) but the great march which follows is about right in terms of momentum and weight, and every texture is clear in this analytical sound stage. Though no one can outshine the truculence of Klemperer in this passage. As with the brass calls near the start, the off-stage band in its brief passage of crashing away counter to the music on-stage is balanced admirably again. So too are the fanfares of the "Gross Appell" prior to the entry of the chorus.

At this point in the movement the whole mood of the symphony has to change radically to give the performance its true emotional weight. It was at this moment in the composition that Mahler was freed up from a creative block, remember. From here on we have hope and salvation replacing travail and doubt. Neuhold's direct, rather unyielding, presentation means we don't really get that here so this is not a recording which will leave you as moved as you are with conductors like Rattle (EMI 7 47962 2), Walter (Sony SM2K 64447), or Bernstein (DG 423 395-2) to name only three who pile on the emotion. Neuhold does relax somewhat so there is some new feeling to be had even though it's not as overwhelming as it sometimes can be even in the great Resurrection hymn at the close. There is a place for this kind of approach but it needs a Klemperer (EMI "live" in Munich 5 66867 2, or in the studio 5 67235 2), or a Kubelik (448 848-2, on a single CD and contained in his boxed set of the complete symphonies), in their different ways digging back and deep into the tradition of the music, to really bring that off. Rattle, Walter and especially Bernstein are there for those who need maximum emotion in the more conventional sense by taking the music at face value - something Klemperer never does. Gielen (Hänssler CD 93.001) is also in the frame to really challenge with a 20th century perspective. So Gunter Neuhold, admirable though he is, is not quite up there with any of these as I feel he is just too concerned in the final analysis with clarity and poise; in itself no bad thing and refreshing in its way, I have to add. There is a pause before the audience begins politely applauding. Maybe they felt the same way too.

Not a Mahler Second to go among the immortals, but one with just enough virtues to be worth investigating all the same.

Tony Duggan

See Tony Duggan's comparative review of recordings of the Mahler symphonies. Ordering details for other discs mentioned above will be found there.



The disc priced @ approx £13.99 according to dealer in UK. Can also be obtained from Kingdom Records Ltd, Clarendon House, Shenley Rd. Borehamwood, Herts WD6 1AG. enquiries Tel. 020 8207 7006 or via E-mail at Kingdomrec@AOL.COM

 Bella Musica - Antes Edition do not have a website but can be contacted at:-

Eisenbahnstraße 30
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Fax (07223) 98 55-66

In USA the disc should be available via Qualiton

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