Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection"
Gabriele Maria Ronge
Delores Ziegler (Alto)
Chor des NDR; Chor des Bremer Theaters,
Philharmonisches Staatsorchester Bremen/Gunter Neuhold
BELLA MUSICA - ANTES EDITION
BM-CD 14.9004 [83.11]
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.
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
Bella Musica - Antes Edition do not have a website but can be contacted
phone (07223) 98 55-0
Fax (07223) 98 55-66
In USA the disc should be available via Qualiton