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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 2 in C minor ‘Resurrection’ (1888-1894; new critical edition by Renate Stark-Voit & Gilbert Kaplan) [88:25]
Chen Reiss (soprano)
Karen Cargill (mezzo)
Netherlands Radio Choir/Klaas Stok
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Daniele Gatti
rec. live, 18 September 2016, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam
Reviewed as a 16/44.1 press download
Pdf booklet includes sung texts
Also available on DVD/Blu-ray
RCO LIVE RCO17003 [2 SACDs: 22:40 + 65:44]

There was surprise in some quarters when, in October 2014, it was announced that Daniele Gatti would succeed Mariss Jansons as chief conductor of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, with effect from September 2016. Having much admired the Italian’s incisive Mahler 5, part of a double-anniversary box of DVD/Blu-rays from RCO Live, I was rather more optimistic about the appointment. Gatti’s RPO CDs of the Fourth and Fifth have also had good reviews, and that surely bodes well for his leadership of what is, arguably, the world’s finest Mahler band.

However, my confidence took a dive when I reviewed his account of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, recorded with the Concertgebouw in April 2016. Indeed, a less idiomatic reading of this oft-played score would be hard to imagine; ironic, given that Nina Siegal of the New York Times described Gatti as a ‘creative risk-taker’. To be fair, I did end my review by suggesting that all new partnerships need time to ‘bed in’. That said, it’s probably unrealistic to expect much progress in just five months. As for RCO Live, they’re setting great store by this, the first in a projected Mahler cycle, as it’s a multi-platform release (SACD, DVD/Blu-ray and download).

It’s also worth noting that Gatti, like Jansons in his RCO recording, opts for the new critical edition of Mahler 2, prepared by Renate Stark-Voit and Gilbert Kaplan. This takes note of new source material that’s come to light since 1970, when Erwin Ratz completed the first critical edition. The second includes notes from the composer’s personal score, the last of which dates from September 1910. But, most important, this definitive edition corrects all the errors that resulted from fairly crude alterations to the original engravings.

At this point I usually list and link to competing versions of the album in question, but as I’ve done that in all my previous Resurrection reviews I’ll give it a miss this time around. That said, listeners might be interested in two very recent recordings of this great symphony, one from Gianandrea Noseda in Turin, the other from Valery Gergiev in Munich. The former is something of a novelty, as it was captured on tape, using vintage analogue equipment, and then digitized. A gimmick, I hear you cry. Perhaps, but it sounds splendid; the performance, which I characterised as ‘palate- and soul-cleansing’, is pretty good too. I’ve yet to hear the new Gergiev, but I wasn’t persuaded by his earlier Resurrection, recorded as part of his complete  LSO cycle.

So, how does Gatti do? The first movement starts well, with uncontroversial tempi and the Concertgebouw in good voice. Then comes the first red flag: what appears to be a warmly expansive reading of this opener is actually a rather generic, even flaccid, one. That really is a surprise, given the slam and sinew of that Concertgebouw Fifth. Yes, details are lovingly pointed, and there’s plenty of what one might call ‘southern warmth’ as well; alas, the latter brings with it a certain languor that’s much less appealing. The good news is that even in its 16-bit form the recording sounds fine, and I daresay the SACD and DVD/Blu-ray versions will improve on that.

The dancing rhythms of the Andante are genial enough, but otherwise it all seems a trifle bland. Clearly, this is a performance where incidents and telling asides matter more than overall shape or structural integrity, and that makes for sporadic progress. Not only that, Gatti lets the music doze in the afternoon heat, and then has to nudge it into wakefulness once more. This is very disconcerting, and despite some much-needed vim the third movement isn’t much better. There’s even an element of Verdian rumty-tumty at times, and that’s just bizarre. And just when slumber threatens, Gatti attacks the tuttis which, as they haven’t been properly prepared for, just sound over-loud and overbearing.

Next up is Urlicht, but that stalls almost before it has begun. Extreme self-indulgence in such poised, finely calibrated music is a recipe for disaster, and Karen Cargill’s less-than-secure delivery doesn’t help. Then again, she has the daunting task of trying to match Gatti’s soporific pace. There’s a fine line between limp and limpid, and you can probably guess where Gatti lies. This faltering Urlicht brings me, rather neatly, to overall timings. At 88:25 Gatti is very slow, but then Riccardo Chailly in Leipzig stretches to – but never feels like – 95:42. At 75:15 Noseda is one of the quickest, with Simone Young in Hamburg at 79:27 and Bruno Walter (New York, 1957/58) at 79:40.

Predictably, Gatti really turns up the wick in the final movement, but, wrenched out of its wider context, these climaxes amount to little more than a series of empty gestures. Gatti also has a penchant for parenthesising, which disrupts the music’s ebb and flow and undercuts any sense of approaching apotheosis or transcendence. And it’s all made infinitely worse by uneven and ill-matched soloists, a clouded choir – in quieter passages, at least – and, on the conductor’s part, a damning lack of coherence or conviction.

Fearing I’d succumbed to early onset dyspepsia – I’ve reviewed some very dull recordings lately – I listened to this performance again. Regrettably, it sounded just as earthbound – and as wrong-headed – as it did the first time. I’m all for ‘creative risk-taking’, particularly if it throws new light on familiar and much-loved scores, but I’m afraid there are no such revelations here. More worrying, though, is that nay-sayers might well point to this and the Berlioz as proof that the Concertgebouw took a gamble with Gatti – and lost.

This Resurrection disappoints and frustrates at every turn; not a promising start to this prestigious project.

Dan Morgan



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