This is a recording
of a live 'Gala Farewell Concert' to
Markus Stenz, who was leaving Australia
to move to Cologne - where he was General
Music Director in the 2004/5 season.
Spread over two discs, one cannot help
wondering why ABC put the first two
movements on CD1, and the rest on CD2.
Mahler suggests, I believe, a short
break between the extended first movement
and the rest of the symphony.
The performance itself
edges towards excellence at times; at
others it is merely accurate. There
is a sense of the musicians enjoying
themselves (as any brass player ...)
and everyone does seem to give of their
best. The off-stage balances of the
final movement are very effective spatially,
as well as being exceptionally well
The recording is slightly
blurry at times, but copes well with
the major dynamic events. These comments
might strike the listener most forcefully
right at the very outset, where a hint
of muffle to the cellos and basses does
not bode well. However, in general,
things are caught well; try for example
the tender pianissimo violins around
three minutes in.
Most importantly, Stenz
has a fine sense of the music's architecture
that ensures involved listening at any
point. It must certainly have been quite
an occasion on the night(s). Nevertheless
there is some pedestrianism that comes
across on disc (around 9'40-50 particularly).
Stenz chooses to ignore the Luftpausen
around 13'50, which I personally found
rather distracting - there is just the
impression of ploughing through.
The second movement,
despite some solo contributions, sound
rather lukewarm. Rehearsal care is clear
in the string balancing and there is
much delicacy, but the overall impression
was of hearing this movement as an entity
in its own right rather than as part
of a larger canvas. The crisp timpani
and superb trumpets of the third movement
make for the most complete performance
yet, a very exciting reading that tests
the recording – a test it passes with
The brass alas do not
quite convey the gravitas of the situation
in the fourth movement (the vocal 'Urlicht'),
tending rather towards the mundane.
Bernadette Cullen starts well but goes
on to sound slightly out of control
at 'Da kam ich an einen breiten Weg'
The famous finale begins
with good string definition at its opening,
and the above-mentioned offstage effects
make their point extremely well. This
is, in fact, the best movement. There
is real sense of organic growth here.
The percussion crescendo, by the way,
is good but certainly not neighbour-complaint-inducing.
At the other end of the dynamic spectrum,
the choral entry is certainly pp
to the power n. The exhortation
to 'Prepare thyself' ('Bereite dich')
is alas half-hearted - what a time to
not go for it! At least the command
to 'Auferstehen' carries conviction,
as does the orchestral coda. The 'Bravo's
from the audience confirm the impact
at the time.
Booklet notes are very
No doubt that this
is an important event well preserved.
That said, this is not a Second that
will go down in the pantheon of greats
- not by a long chalk.