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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen for 64 unaccompanied voices (arr. Clytus Gottwald) (1982) [6:38]
Symphony No. 2 ‘Resurrection’ (1888/1894, rev. 1905) [86:20]
Anja Harteros (soprano); Bernarda Fink (mezzo)
Bavarian Radio Symphony Chorus/Michael Gläser
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
rec. live 13, 15 May 2011, Philharmonie, Gasteig, Munich, Germany
Video director: Brian Large
Sound: PCM Stereo, dts-HD Master Audio Surround 5.0
Picture: 1080i HD, 16:9/NTSC
Region: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: German, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Korean
ARTHAUS MUSIK 108 081 [96:00]

Mariss Jansons and his Bavarian forces performed the ‘Resurrection’ at this year’s BBC Proms on 9th August and in Edinburgh three days later. I confess I’m not a fan of this conductor’s Mahler, but I was pleasantly surprised by his 2011 Concertgebouw accounts of Nos. 2, 3 and 8 in the RCO box of Blu-rays (review). The Dutch orchestra played very well for him in the 'Resurrection' - as did the BRSO at the Proms - and that’s my abiding memory of both performances. Is that enough? After all this is one of those transfiguring works that needs to batter the heart as well as caress the ear. Gustavo Dudamel and his Bolivars achieved that elusive state with their 2011 Prom - a DVD/Blu-ray of that would be most welcome - as did Riccardo Chailly and the Gewandhaus at the 2011 Leipzig Mahlerfest (review).
 
What torpedoed Jansons’ 2013 Prom for me was the use of an electronic organ - the Bavarians tune to a lower pitch - and a combined chorus of only one hundred or so. Neither is conducive to maximum impact in the Royal Albert Hall, although I gather this wasn’t an issue in the smaller Usher Hall, Edinburgh, the following Monday. Regrettably, mezzo Anna Larsson was replaced in both concerts by Gerhild Romberger; that said, the usually dependable Larsson wasn’t at her best in the Luisi/RCO Das Lied von der Erde. This BRSO Blu-ray looks reasonably promising in the soloist stakes, although I did find Bernarda Fink a little too generalised in the Jansons/RCO ‘Urlicht’.
 
Michael Cookson was at the first of the two performances that make up this Blu-ray, and I’m pleased he singled out the excellent visuals in his review of the DVD. Brian Large is one of the most intuitive video directors around, so that certainly augurs well for this disc. Some may feel the pictures are of peripheral importance, but the erratic camerawork and insensitive fades in the RCO cycle really diluted my enjoyment of the music. The unpardonable lack of subtitles for the vocal works also robs the RCO discs of their shine. No such cavils - technical or otherwise - about the Chailly Blu-ray; that’s the one Jansons and the BRSO have to beat.
 
Unusually the programme begins with a short but mellifluous a cappella arrangement of Mahler’s Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, conducted by chorus master Michael Gläser. The piece has a lovely sheen, but it's a little too moulded for my taste. By contrast the opening bars of the symphony have an etched urgency that promises much, but despite a sophisticated colour palette Jansons is just too fastidious with his brush; that and odd tempo changes disrupt the narrative. It all sounds glorious - bright, clear woodwinds, burnished horns and silky strings - but without a governing thrust and sense of purpose the music is apt to wander.
 
The Andante moderato is even less focused; the leading edges of Mahler’s lovely, winsome tunes are unforgivably smudged and rhythms are stultifyingly literal. I’ve long felt Jansons fusses over tiny daubs and loses sight of the broader canvas; happily he avoids that in his RCO concerts, but I’m afraid he doesn’t here. The third movement is tossed and tugged about - quietly flowing it certainly isn’t - and despite dozens of delectable details that don’t always register in the concert hall it all seems so reactive, so spur of the moment. The long span - and that includes crafting the climaxes so they don’t sound rhetorical and/or overblown - seems to elude Jansons in Munich. Oddly that wasn’t an issue in Amsterdam.
 
Fink’s ‘Urlicht’ - beautifully sung but ultimately rather bland - leads into some of the most puzzling and peremptory Mahler I’ve heard in a long time. Jansons underlines and emphasises to an extraordinary degree, drawing out and then shushing his chorus in a most unsubtle fashion. Harteros is adequate, but nothing special, while the timps and bass drum - rather too prominent, as they were in the Albert Hall - add a superficial thrill to the proceedings. In mitigation the chorus sound substantial and they sing well, but the organ isn’t particularly powerful. The closing pages seldom fail to transport and terrify in equal measure, but here they do neither.
 
What a wayward and perplexing performance this is, the very antithesis of Jonathan Nott and his Bamberg band (Tudor SACD). Lean, propulsive and superbly structured Nott's is one of the stand-out Mahler 2s of recent memory. The sound of this Jansons Blu-ray - in stereo at least - is good, and the high-def picture is pin-sharp. That’s faint praise, given that the performance is nowhere near as recommendable. If you must have this symphony on Blu-ray Chailly is the one to go for; I doubt that will be equalled - let alone eclipsed - any time soon.
 
An erratic and underwhelming concert; not remotely competitive.
 
Dan Morgan
http://twitter.com/mahlerei

Masterwork Index: Mahler 2

See also review of DVD release by Michael Cookson