There are few more
extraordinary stories in the world of
music in our time than that of Gilbert
Kaplan’s obsession with Mahler’s Resurrection
Symphony. So committed did he become
to this particular composition that
he learned how to conduct in order to
be able to perform it. This new Deutsche
Grammophon recording is in fact his
second, and it is a real winner.
Recorded in Vienna
towards the end of 2002, the performance
benefits from spectacularly good sound
(it is also available in super-audio
format). The complex perspectives are
well handled and the dynamic range is
appropriately wide. For full effect
this is music that cries out for the
special occasion of a live performance,
but that experience may well depend
upon matters such as where one sits
in the auditorium and whether ones neighbours
are coughers or unwrappers of sweets.
So a recorded performance might have
much to commend it.
Either way the music
emerges stronger with each hearing.
By every judgement this is a masterly
score, strongly cohesive and boldly
imaginative. Of course the recorded
catalogues hold many splendid performances,
including those of Otto Klemperer who
as a young man worked with Mahler. Then
there are eminent conductors such as
Bernard Haitink, Georg Solti, Claudio
Abbado and Klaus Tennstedt, to name
but a few. There is no point pretending
that any one interpretation is definitive,
and each will bring its own special
It is a measure of
Gilbert Kaplan’s love and understanding
of the symphony that the presentation
and organisation of the whole package
is so impeccably done. For example,
at 85 minutes his tempi are slightly
too broad to allow for a single CD.
The first of the two discs in the slimline
box contains only the first movement,
at just over 23 minutes, and the remaining
hour of the symphony is on disc two.
If this seems a strange way of operating,
it has everything to do with the nature
of the music, since Mahler asked for
a pause after the first movement, while
the other movements either run directly
into the next or – in the case of movements
two and three – the ending of one implies
the beginning of the next.
This might seem simply
logical, but how often does a CD fail
to observe such essential sensitivities?
All too frequently, alas. This decision
alone demonstrates excellent artistic
judgement and influences the recommendation.
As for considering
the performance from the musical rather
than the organisational point of view,
Kaplan again scores highly. The excellent
playing of the Vienna Philharmonic is
another bonus, and the beautifully produced
booklet claims that this is the first
recording of the symphony to use the
urtext edition. Kaplan has supervised
this part of the issue too, and has
written the perceptive and informative
notes himself. The only drawback is
that in order to fit the booklet into
the slimline box, compromises have been
made. The print size is very small and
the paper is very thin – so thin, in
fact, that when reading one side you
have the option of reading the reverse
side at the same time. Irritating indeed.
The pacing of the performance
is perhaps its greatest strength. The
tempi feel absolutely right, save perhaps
for a broadening at the climax of the
third movement scherzo, which seems
mannered. There is sensitivity to detail
but this does not compromise the visionary
longer-term aspects of this huge score.
With wider experience and confidence,
Kaplan really does have important things
to say when he conducts the music.
The singers acquit
themselves with distinction too. They
are also nicely integrated into the
sound-perspective and are not made to
seem operatic or star performers who
are more important than the main agenda.
As the music moves to its apocalyptic
conclusion the choral forces add another
dimension, rich and full-bodied. Mahler’s
magnificent vision is compelling indeed.
All praise to Gilbert Kaplan for his
boldness and for sharing his obsession
with this great and visionary symphony.
review by Colin Clarke