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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 2 ‘Resurrection’ (1894)
Latonia Moore (soprano), Nadja Michael (mezzo soprano)
Vienna Singverein
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/Gilbert Kaplan
Recorded November and December 2002, Musikverein, Vienna
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 474 380-2 [2CDs: 85.48]


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 rewards.

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.

Terry Barfoot

see also review by Colin Clarke

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