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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No 2 “Resurrection”
Tünde Szabóki (soprano)
Nadine Weissmann (alto)
Choir of the Städtischer Musikverein zu Düsseldorf
Düsseldorfer Symphoniker/Adam Fischer
Rec. live, 3-8 April 2019, Tonhalle Düsseldorf, Germany
CAVI-MUSIC 8553485 [81:01]

There is much to enjoy in this performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony, though overall it’s a bit too mixed for it to be an overall recommendation.

This is the first instalment that I’ve heard of Adam Fischer’s Düsseldorf Mahler cycle, and it certainly hasn’t put me off exploring more. For much of the symphony Fischer’s direction is really strong, and it culminates in an expansive, grandly exploratory reading of the finale. Here he lingers over some sections more than some would like, but overall I found his direction convincing and organic, moving from section to section in a way that manages to avoid sounding episodic, which is no mean feat in this sprawling movement.

Prior to that, I enjoyed his way with the middle movements, too. The Scherzo, in particular is extremely effective, with a delicate pitter-patter to its melodic scampering that works really well, allowing the music lightness alongside its argumentative power. There is an entirely appropriate hint of schmaltz to the second movement, and the Urlicht is paced just right. The trumpets of the opening sound gorgeous and, alongside Nadine Weissmann, his alto soloist, Fischer shapes the sound to tread just the right line between childlike innocence and rapt adult spirituality.

His first movement sounds rushed, however. He fairly rattles through the it, seemingly ignoring Mahler’s “Maestoso” direction, and, therefore, seems to dispense with each section with alarming speed that rather dilutes the argument. There is a little slowing up for some sections, but this sounds a little tokenistic, and undermines the flow in a way he manages so successfully to avoid in the finale.

He is let down by his choir, too, who frequently sound as though they are attacking from below the note, and this means there is little sense of majesty or relaxing into the sound. Things improve by the triumphant end, but the seeds of doubt have already been sown by then. Nor is his soprano too easy on the ear: Tünde Szabóki sounds a little squally in places, and there isn’t much angelic about her performance. Recorded sound is good, and it helps that the symphony is squeezed onto one CD, but it doesn’t help that the sung texts are given only in German, with no translations.

All of these problems would be entirely forgiveable in a live performance, of course, and that is, indeed, how these performances began life. But for a recording to go back to again and again, it won’t do, I’m afraid. Rattle from Birmingham remains the standard if you want your Mahler in the perfection of a studio recording. Tennstedt or Jurowski, both with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, are excellent bets if you’d like a live version you can live with forever.

Simon Thompson

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