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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 2 in C minor, ‘Resurrection’ (1894)
Banse (soprano); Anna Larsson (contralto)
Schweizer Kammerchor/Fritz Näf
Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich/David Zinman
rec. 10-12 February 2006, Tonhalle, Zurich. BMG-RCA
82876 87157 2 [22:04 + 59:42]
no mistake, in a crowded field this ‘Resurrection’ is a front-runner.
It has all the right qualities; a real feeling for the Mahlerian
style, a sure sense of the work’s architecture, two good
soloists, a well-drilled chorus and a truly spectacular recording.
But all this counts for very little without conductor David
Zinman, whose recent Beethoven and Richard Strauss – on Arte
Nova – signalled that something special was afoot in Zurich.
so it proves. This ‘Resurrection’ is the second in Zinman’s
projected Mahler cycle for RCA. The first, Symphony No. 1,
gets off to a flying start - in my book at least - by including
the ‘Blumine’ movement that Mahler discarded in his final
revision of the symphony. That disc also introduced me to
the brave new world of Super Audio CDs, of which more later.
agitated opening of the ‘Resurrection’ reliably indicates
whether the symphony is going to be a winner or an also-ran.
So often conductors lose that all-important pulse and the
symphony then loses all sense of thrust and purpose. Of the
big names I’d say Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer, Zubin Mehta
(in an underrated reading with the VPO), Eugene Ormandy (RCA)
and, most recently, Michael Gielen (Hänssler), get the music
off to a good start. Among the newest recordings Iván Fischer
(Channel Classics) and Pierre Boulez (DG) don’t get far beyond
the starting gate.. But then their readings are seriously
flawed in other ways too.
both the conventional ‘Red Book’ CD layer and the two-channel
SACD layer is a revelation. While the many felicities of
Mahler’s orchestration are beautifully caught in both, it
is in its SACD guise that this recording really thrills.
This is particularly evident in those eruptive passages for
percussion, where the sheer visceral impact of the sound
comes very, very close to the live experience.
second movement could perhaps be more fleet of foot, but
despite this too leisurely Ländler Zinman soon reasserts
his authority over the orchestra. The playing of the brass
and woodwinds is very fine and the level of instrumental
detail - a striking feature of Gielen’s non-SACD version
- is extraordinary. But where Gielen is in Wunderhorn mode – lighter,
sunnier – Zinman’s approach is a shade darker, more implacable.
third movement is well judged, its growing angst calmed
by the soothing balm of the ensuing ‘Urlicht’. How pleasing
to hear a contralto without a distracting beat in her voice
- pace Michelle DeYoung for Boulez. The soloists are
perhaps further forward than is ideal but when the vocal
timbre is as naturally caught as this it really doesn’t matter
quite prepares the unwary listener for the cataclysmic opening
to the final movement. The added dynamic range of SACD really
tells at this point and I defy anyone not to be unseated
here! This is not Mahler for head bangers or hifi freaks – although
this set is definitely in the ‘demonstration’ class – because
Zinman never loses sight of the music’s architecture, of
the balance between Mahler at his most intimate and at his
hushed choral opening is another of those nodal points in
the symphony. Approaching the last fence so many choruses
just miss that mixture of mystery and reverence. And that
thrilling shout of ‘Bereite dich’ should really make one’s
hair stand on end … as indeed it does here.
in this massive symphony is geared towards the choral climax
and in the finishing straight so many performances drop out
of the race altogether. And how often the organ sounds puny,
swamped by the orchestra and chorus. Here one registers – and
relishes – that frisson of bells and a deep, thrilling
organ sound. Even the soloists are clearly audible and that
doesn’t happen very often. Needless to say one is left drained
and shaken at the close. Moved, certainly, and in no doubt
that this is a great Mahler cycle in the making.
I said earlier there are many fine recordings of this work;
among those I have not mentioned are the erratic Leonard
Bernstein - his famous Ely Cathedral performance on Sony
far preferable to his etiolated DG remake - and the wonderful,
humane Klaus Tennstedt with the LPO on EMI.
then this is a deeply personal symphony and listeners are
likely to be swayed by whichever reading appeals to them
most at this level. To my mind, though, Zinman really is
on form in this repertoire and that is why this triumphant
new ‘Resurrection’ deserves its place in the winners’ enclosure.
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