At first sight it appears a little odd that the LPO should release this recording of Mahler’s Second Symphony when it’s only a matter of months since they issued a live recording of the same work conducted by their former Principal Conductor, Klaus Tennstedt (review). However, I suppose it’s understandable that they should want in their catalogue a representation of their current Principal in Mahler and, in any case, Vladimir Jurowski’s view of the work differs in many respects from that of his illustrious predecessor.
Jurowski’s interpretation has nothing like the intensity of Tennstedt. It may have a different intensity but, if so, I’m afraid it rather eluded me. To be honest, I found it a perplexing reading at times. At the very start of the opening funeral march the overriding impression is one of haste; Jurowski seems to be propelling the music faster than I can readily recall hearing. The energy may be welcome but the music seems to lack essential weight. For the slower episode (5:21- 7:06) Jurowski adopts a sensibly spacious tempo, which is sensitive but not unduly expansive. However, a little later on, in a passage dominated by woodwind and solo violin (from about 9:35 to 1031) I think he’s unduly brisk and there were several other places in the music where either the pacing seemed not quite right or else there was an uncomfortable gear change (sample the passage between 13:30 and 13:57 for an instance of the latter). Overall, I had the impression of restlessness and I was never sure from one moment to the next what Jurowski would do with the music, whether he would press ahead or rein back the tempo. Now, you might argue that such unpredictability – or spontaneity - is the essence of live music making but I feel in this case it’s more a question that the conductor has an uncertain view of the movement’s structure. I found it unsatisfactory.
I’m afraid I wasn’t terribly impressed with the account of the second movement. The speed at the start is a bit on the slow side – self consciously so, I think – and the passage between 3:20 and 5:16 is definitely too slow and sounds mannered, even though the strings, especially the celli, sing their lines beautifully. Jurowski seems unwilling – or unable – to let the music speak for itself in this movement. He’s too interventionist and as a result Maher’s music sounds unacceptably moulded.
There are a few more mannered touches in the third movement though broadly this is a successful account. The ‘Urlicht’ movement benefits from distinguished singing by Christianne Stotijn. Her tone is warm, her approach poised and she sings with good clarity.
The finale gets off to a suitably explosive start and much of it is admirably directed by Jurowski, who demonstrates a good feel for the dramatic element of the movement. Some listeners may feel, as I do, that the off-stage brass is placed a little too distantly but that distancing adds atmosphere. But though his overall direction of the movement is good there are times when I think Jurowski’s touch is less sure. One such passage occurs between 10:11 and 10:41, shortly after those two vast percussion crescendi. In Jurowski’s hands these bars become a quick march. If his swift pacing was meant to convey excitement it had the opposite effect on me; the speed makes the music sound little more than briskly efficient. The London Philharmonic Choir’s first entry is as hushed as it should be and I liked the singing of Adriana Kučerová, whose voice emerges serenely from the quiet choral textures. At ‘O glaube, mein Herz, o glaube’ Christianne Stotijn makes a good showing once again thanks to her strong, firm tone and clear diction and, indeed, both soloists impress. The choir also makes a very good contribution but I was surprised at how weak the Festival Hall organ sounds. Towards the close of the movement there’s another instance of what I can only regard as tempo misjudgement by the conductor who presses ahead strongly at ‘Sterben werd’ ich, um zu leben!’ in a way that I can’t recall hearing before. No doubt the intention was to convey eagerness and urgency but my impression was one of a fence being rushed.
Predictably, the audience goes wild at the end and no doubt it was an exciting experience on the night itself but whether this interpretation can stand up to the spotlight of repeated listening I’m much less sure. Those interested in seeing how the performance appeared at the time may like to know that the second of the pair of concerts from which this recording is taken was reviewed by Mark Berry for MusicWeb International Seen and Heard.
There’s much that’s positive about this performance and the singing, playing and recorded sound are all very good. However, Jurowski’s approach is a bit too wilful at times for my taste and, in the last analysis, the catalogue contains quite a number of other versions of this symphony that have stronger claims on the attentions of collectors than this one.
See review by Dan Morgan and Brian Wilson of the download of this recording