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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 2 in C minor Resurrection (1894) (arr. small orchestra, Gilbert Kaplan and Rob Mathes) [86:39]
Marlis Petersen (mezzo), Janina Baechle (soprano)
Wiener Singakademie
Wiener KammerOrchester/Gilbert Kaplan
rec. Wiener Konzerthaus, 17 February 2013
AVIE AV2290 [23:29 + 63:10]

Gilbert Kaplan, that fabulously wealthy publishing entrepreneur, can rightly be said to have an obsession about Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony. This is the only work he conducts and this is his third recording of it. The first, twenty-five years ago was with the LSO (Conifer 75605513372). I was intrigued and bought it. It was OK and well played but at the end of it my feeling was “So what?” It didn’t stay long in the collection. Ten years ago Kaplan recorded it again with VPO which I have not heard. That was on Deutsche Grammophon 474 380-2 and was reviewed by my colleague Colin Clarke. It was also discussed by the late Tony Duggan in his marvellous survey of all the Mahler symphonies. Tony felt that it lacked idiom and was more positive about the earlier LSO recording.

The present recording uses basically half the orchestra that is usually deployed in the Resurrection. This opens the door to chamber orchestras playing the work. There are detailed notes on the reasons and breakdown for the arrangement in the booklet. The first question that occurred to me on receiving the disc was: "Why a third recording ... and why a chamber orchestra?" I have never felt so underwhelmed at the end of the first movement over the twenty-five years since I got to know the symphony from Sir Simon Rattle’s excellent CBSO version. The players perform perfectly adequately and I suppose, if listeners had no opportunity to hear the “real thing”, this is better than nothing but for home listeners there are a myriad marvellous recordings. It’s like watching snooker on black and white TV - it just doesn’t make sense.

The second movement starts quite pleasantly but, as throughout, there is a lack of pulse and commitment. The third movement was so irritating that it took quite lot of restraint not to press the stop button. Urlicht is sung rather well by experienced Janina Baechle although I have some reservations. It felt as if the whole power of the music is being held back but this may just be reflective of the day. The final movement seems to last an eternity and the problem is more than simply a matter of a smaller orchestra. It’s the fact that everyone seems to be going through the motions. I remember listening to another performance of this movement with a friend in my car live from the Proms. Although we’d arrived at our destination, we were gripped and listened to the end; that’s what should happen. With great relief I turned to James Levine’s live recording on Orfeo, which I bought to supplement his RCA set; this on the strength of Dan Morgan’s review. The sound is right in the third movement and Christa Ludwig is awesome in Urlicht. Then all hell breaks loose at the start of the finale. This is what Mahler wanted when he said “The symphony must be like the world; it must embrace everything". Levine's is a gripping account and should be in the collection of anyone who loves this symphony or wants to know it better. Interestingly the textures are much clearer in Levine’s recording with a full orchestra than in the chamber version.

The present recording was completed in one day which says it all. Mahler famously re-orchestrated Schumann’s symphonies (Bis, Ceccato; Decca, Chailly). What would he think of this? It reminds me of the “Top of the Pops” records that were cover versions in the early 1970s; it just doesn’t sound like Mahler. Should the listener want Kaplan in this work then people far more expert than me will direct them to his first recording - the one with the LSO. I will listen to what I regard as the “greats”: Walter, Klemperer, Levine and Rattle. This work is marvellous and deserves a magnificent performance.

Ultimately this Avie disc is superfluous and sadly it will not be one that I will return to. I’ve just had a terrible thought: there won’t be a fourth recording of this arrangement in another ten years will there?

David R Dunsmore

Masterwork Index: Symphony 2