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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 2 in C minor Resurrection(1888-1894) [79:40]
Emilia Cundari (soprano); Maureen Forrester (alto)
Westminster Choir; New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Bruno Walter.
rec. 17 February 1958 (I), 21 February 1958 (II-III), 18 February 1957 (IV-V), Carnegie Hall, New York. XR re-mastering.
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC 385 [79:40]

Pristine has chosen a striking cover design for this issue to reflect the cosmic nature of the Resurrection Symphony: artwork based on photos from the Hubble Space Telescope is used as the backdrop to the image of Bruno Walter, baton poised. This is a recording that was almost never completed: the sessions were delayed by a year following Walter’s heart attack in March 1957, just after he had recorded the fourth and fifth movements.
 
Walter’s way with this mighty work has been revered since it first appeared; regarding its musical content, I have nothing much to contribute beyond reiterating the many virtues already commented upon by previous reviewers. This is a recording which belongs in every serious Mahlerian’s collection; the question is whether a newcomer or an established collector should contemplate forking out for this XR re-mastering by Andrew Rose.
 
I have long been a fan of Pristine’s engineering and just recently extolled the extraordinary clarity and depth which Mr Rose has breathed into the Furtwängler La Scala Ring. I am invariably impressed by what he can do for venerable recordings and I can certainly hear how he has reduced hiss, enhanced lower frequencies and revealed the brass and chorus in greater glory. However, after repeated close comparison with the CBS issue - originally very well recorded by Philips - I cannot in all conscience claim that anyone who already owns it need rush to replace it with this Pristine single disc, especially as the CBS double CD set, offering the First Symphony too, is available at bargain prices. Indeed, occasionally I even felt that that the CBS engineering retained more bite and body than the Pristine version.
 
Walter’s vision for this work is one of quiet mastery and concentration; there is nothing showy or interventionist about his conducting but under his direction the music seems always to be doing just what it should. He never lingers or indulges and those looking for the equally masterly but very different, slower approaches of Tennstedt or Levine or Klemperer’s more granitic assault, will be surprised. Walter’s version fits neatly onto one disc but he never seems to be rushing. He storms heaven with an orchestra - here correctly credited as the New York Philharmonic, which was originally billed as the “Columbia Symphony Orchestra” for the usual contractual reasons - which plays out of its skin.
 
The key to the first movement lies in the instruction “maestoso”; Walter maintains a steady, majestic and inexorable stride in this funeral march, but also permits the pastoral interludes to unfold gently, uniting the two moods with a firm sense of purpose. His control is absolute; he knows how to meld the contrasting and conflicting moods into a coherent narrative. When the menacing opening theme returns on the insistent brass, the discords build and build to a thrilling climax at 14:54 before the tantalising offer of consolation subsides into a wholly ambiguous conclusion, reflecting Mahler’s ambivalence about his search for God; Walter displays a wholly convincing understanding of the spiritual dimension of this symphony.
 
The Andante unfolds with lilt and charm; Walter’s subtle rubato and the singing cello tone effortlessly convey the recollection of happy memories in a past life. This restrained style perhaps carries over too much into the “St Anthony preaching to the fishes” movement, eliciting a criticism from some quarters which has some validity, that he is a tad too blithe and relaxed to capture fully the grim and bitter irony of the saint’s efforts; the music here should sound like a metaphor for the circularity and pointlessness of life’s frustrations, but yet again Walter secures a powerful close to the movement.
 
“Urlicht” is tender and prayerful, as it should be. Maureen Forrester’s smoky, rich-toned contralto, with its appealing, flickering vibrato, is amongst the very best in this music; only Janet Baker in her many versions and perhaps Jessye Norman for Maazel surpass her. The monstrous finale is simply glorious: Emilia Cundari - a singer with whom, I confess, I am entirely unfamiliar - is silvery and soaring, while Forrester intones her text like the Cumaean Sibyl. The Westminster College Choir is wonderfully expressive, first mysterious, then impassioned and ecstatic. The otherworldly off-stage effects in the “Grosse Appel” are highly effective and in the last ten minutes are amongst the most serene and ethereal of any recording. Consistent with his strategy in directing the whole symphony, Walter makes a slow-burn progress towards an overwhelmingly powerful climax.
 
Whether you buy it on Pristine or CBS, this is an essential interpretation.
 
Ralph Moore 

Masterwork Index: Mahler 2

Movement timings:- 

1st mvt. Allegro maestoso [21:37]
2nd mvt. Andante moderato [10:37]
3rd mvt. In ruhig fließender Bewegung [10:46]
4th mvt. Urlicht - Sehr feierlich, aber schlicht [4:11]
5th mvt. Pt.1 - Im Tempo des Scherzos - Wild herausfahrend [13:28]
5th mvt. Pt.2 - Wider zurückhaltend - Langsam - Misterioso [19:01] 

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