Jonathan Nott's Bamberg Mahler cycle has had mixed reviews, but this Second seemed to be generally favourably received, so I wagered a try. I am sorry to say, however, that IMHO this recording really adds nothing unmissable to the already amply stocked catalogue. Its main drawback are the insuperably slow tempos in the first three movements. Everything drags, there is at times no sense of pulse at all. Typical Mahler instructions like 'Drängend' or 'Vorwärts' seem to mean nothing to Nott, and the result is a tame kind of staidness. The articulation drawls, there is a lack of attack, with sforzato accents underplayed and no real bite when a certain motif needs to get our attention. A broad and lyrical approach needn't be a problem - Tennstedt's recent LPO version takes almost ten minutes longer, yet is infinitely more involving and exciting; but unlike Tennstedt, Nott doesn't know how to kindle this symphony's inner fire.
The playing in general is adequate rather than distinguished; there are some frayed edges in the brass in the later stages of the work. The singing too is fine, but not exceptional. The distance effects are managed quite well, though the final 'Great Summons' is oddly balanced. The recording is a strange mix of clarity and murkiness. The loudest passages come off quite well, such as the end of the Scherzo or the great cataclysm just before the choral entry in the Finale. Otherwise, detail, especially in the bass, often gets lost, even in such important passages as at #51 in the Scherzo, where the lower strings are barely audible, at least listened to in stereo. The percussion suffers too (though I must hand it to Nott that in the Finale he does give us one of the best percussion crescendos on record).
This is clearly no match for such searing performances as the aforementioned Tennstedt (Symphony No 2 Resurrection), or Paavo Järvi with the Frankfurt RSO (Mahler: Symphony No. 2, Resurrection). Other strong contenders are Fischer (Mahler: Symphony No. 2 in c minor [Hybrid SACD]), the London Kaplan version (Gilbert Kaplan Mahler: Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection"), or the unjustly underrated Zinman (Mahler: Symphony No. 2). So if you want to spend money only once on this symphony, I'd advise you to look there.