Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 2 in C minor Resurrection (1894) [90.00]
Ricarda Merbeth (soprano); Bernarda Fink (mezzo)
Netherlands Radio Choir
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
rec. live, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, 3 December 2009
Music is the Language of the Heart and Soul: A Portrait
of Mariss Jansons
Documentary: A Film by Robert Neumüller [52.00]
Picture format: 16:9, HD 1080i. Sound: DTS Master Audio 5.0 (Concert
Only), PCM Stereo. Region Code: ABC
Subtitles in English, German (concert only), French, Spanish, Chinese,
Booklet: English, German, French
UNITEL CLASSICA/C MAJOR 709804
Mariss Jansons’ Mahler performances with the Concertgebouw
Orchestra strongly remind me of the Decca cycle recorded by
this orchestra with their previous director, Riccardo Chailly.
The preparation is scrupulous, featuring wonderful attention
to detail. Every orchestral section displays immaculate intonation
and ensemble, while the solos are always played with assuming
virtuosity and the highest level of musicianship. The orchestra
has always had a uniquely burnished sound that seems made for
Mahler’s music. When this disc arrived for review, I had
just finished listening to Chailly’s boxed set of the
symphonies and had purchased Chailly’s new Mahler DVDs
of Symphonies Nos. 2 and 8, performed by the Gewandhaus, Leipzig.
It was intriguing to compare these two Chailly performances
with the one caught on Jansons’ Blu-ray disc.
Chailly’s Concertgebouw performance is arguably the worst
in his cycle. From start to finish it is all beautifully played,
but never catches fire. The sound lacks energy and seems overly
cautious, as if both orchestra and chorus are intent on showing
how beautiful they can sound. Jansons’ Concertgebouw performance
is far more impressive - orchestral sound remains astoundingly
beautiful, but the players seem far more engaged. There is an
obvious rapport between Jansons and his musicians; witnessing
that relationship - I cannot think of any other performance
I have seen on DVD where the conductor smiles so much of the
time - only adds to the viewer’s enjoyment.
My past experience with Jansons’ Mahler has left me ambivalent.
I once owned his recording of Symphony No. 2 featuring the Oslo
Philharmonic (Chandos, 1992) and have more recently heard his
performance of Symphonies Nos. 1 and 6 with the Concertgebouw.
His performances always display thorough preparation, attention
to detail and an acute awareness of structure. What I often
find lacking is that last ounce of inspiration that seems so
readily apparent in Bernstein, Tennstedt and Abbado. This performance,
however, immediately drew me in. With that final massive E-flat
chord, I was overwhelmed, keenly aware that this was Mahler
of great conviction and overwhelming technical excellence. With
stunning surround sound and a picture so clear you could practically
read the score over Jansons’ shoulder, I thought this
was unequivocally the prime recommendation for a DVD of Mahler’s
Second Symphony. Then I watched Chailly’s performance.
The Gewandhaus Orchestra plays with a powerful fervor and engagement
that was sorely lacking in the earlier recording. Chailly conducts
like a man possessed and the orchestra is with him every step
of the way. Again, the rapport between musicians and conductor
is readily apparent, and the Gewandhaus musicians have nothing
to fear from comparison with their Dutch neighbors. Once again
I was overwhelmed at the final E-flat chord, as Mahler’s
ideas about God, faith and the afterlife were so fully conveyed.
How to choose between these two awesome performances?
I wish I could write that the Mariss Jansons film tips the scales.
This well made, substantial (52 minutes long) documentary follows
Jansons as he visits his hometown of Riga, Latvia, prepares
for a Tchaikovsky opera performance in the Netherlands, and
for a New Year’s Day Concert with the Vienna Philharmonic.
Towards the beginning of the film, where several people share
how much they admire and love working with Jansons, I feared
this might end up being a superficial publicity film. Yet once
Jansons began reflecting on his health struggles, and growing
up in a country controlled by the Soviet Union, we receive great
insight into what has made him the musician he is today. Interestingly,
as Jansons shares what he learned studying under Karajan, one
cannot help but be struck by his unassuming humility, in stark
contrast to his mentor. I came away with a new admiration for
Jansons, the musician and the man.
Nevertheless, will I watch this film repeatedly? I doubt it
unless I want to directly quote something Jansons said during
the filmed interviews - the title of the film is in fact a Jansons
quote. Therefore, the film does not add greatly to the value
of this disc. Choosing between the Chailly and Jansons performances
is really difficult; you won’t go wrong with either performance.
If forced to choose just one, I would go with Jansons, because
orchestra, soloists, choir, conductor, and the hall itself are
filmed and recorded so magnificently. Watching, you will be
renewed and uplifted, and that is surely what Mahler intended.
David A. McConnell
Note: Interestingly, this same performance is simultaneously
available on the Concertgebouw’s own label - RCO Live:
RCO10102. It’s in a package that includes a 2-SACD performance
of the work taken from 2 or 3 concerts plus a DVD. I hope this
note will prevent needless duplication.