Disclaimer: I do not own an SACD player, so I'll be reviewing this in two-channel stereo only.
Zinman's sudden decrescendo on the symphony's very first note - a string tremelo - might make you think that this is going to be a lightweight presentation of Mahler's gargantuan "Resurrection" symphony. But you'd be deceived in thinking that, as Zinman pours on dazzling brilliance with his bright cymbals and trumpets at the symphony's first ugent climax. This is the real deal. So; that being the case, let's jump to what matters most: the finale's ending.
The dueling mezzo and soprano - Anna Larsson and Juliane Banse - work very well together on their tutti passage, if also a tad operatic sounding. When we get to the unison choral proclamation of "aufverstehen" (rise up), we get plenty of organ peddle, just as Mahler indicates. Best yet, when the chorus cuts out, we get more organ peddles and plenty of deep bells (played ad lib., as opposed to the spare interjections that Mahler wrote out). These are very nice sounding bells!!! - a refreshing change. At the very end, you can hear the alternating salvos from the high and low pitched tam-tams (large orchestral gongs), but not quite as much as on Ivan Fischer's excellent performance on Channel Classics. Still, this is a very well balanced and well nuanced ending with plenty of heft and excitement to go around.
Everything else in the finale is as exciting and driven as it should be too. My one and only complaint with the fifth movement, is one that I have for more than half the recordings of Mahler 2 out there! At the final climax of the long march episode, Mahler writes a series - five in total - of quick strokes on the deep tam-tam that accompany the trumpets. These five rapid strokes are followed up by three interspersed ones. Well; as is so often the case, you simply can't hear them. This may seem like a minor point, but just listen to how much more effective this very same passage is on the underrated Leonard Slatkin recording (Telarc). But beyond this, I have no complaints. At "geschlagen" (to strike), the unison bass drum and cymbal strokes lift you right out of your chair, just as they should. All in all, this is a fine presentation of the long finale, with no excess dragging in the slower, quieter passages that dominate so much of its landscape.
Anna Larsson is excellent in the fourth movement, if also a bit more hushed and rapt sounding than usual. I'll take it, so let's move on (backwards).
At nearly 11 minutes with the second movement, and closer to 10 minutes with the scherzo, Zinman is a tad slower with the second movement than I care for, and a tad faster with the scherzo than I like too - I wish those numbers were flip-flopped. But the musicality involved is never in question, as the four major sections of the orchestra are very well balanced: strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion. The harps are also more front and center than they usually are too. In the second movement, Zinman does a marvellous job of hamming it up at that remarkable passage for pizzicato strings, harps, and piccolo flute (my favorite section in the entire symphony, other than the ending).
Although Ziman's scherzo is rather fast and fleet, he still get his clarinets - among others - to shape their phrasing with lots of crescendos and decrescendos. One passage that does fall somewhat flat, is the one where the four trumpets suddenly begin serenading back and forth to each other (accompanied by harps, arpeggiated strings, and trilling flutes). But the scherzo's main climax has plenty of heft, if also wanting just a tad in explosive power. Overall, I prefer the slower than normal tempo that both Klemperer and Ivan Fischer use for this movement. But Zinman still manages to plow up more fertile ground here than Boulez (DG), who truly just skated upon the surface in his scherzo movement (very odd). Zinman also makes the most of Mahler's wooden sounding col legno markings (hitting the strings with the wooden back of the bow). All of this brings us back to where we started: the first movement, which is a microcosm of the numerous moodswings Mahler conjures up throughout the symphony.
Simply stated, I like Zinman's first movement. He stears a course that's between Walter's strict classicism (if such a thing exists in Mahler), and Bernstein's "live for the moment", overt romanticism. At the central climax, Zinman is quite clear in dealing with its dense textures and rhythmic polyphony (dissonant trumpets; descending strings; suspended cymbal crescendo), with plenty of heft at the orchestra's fortissimo, unison octave jump (descending, accompanied by two bass drum strokes) that cap this passage, and lead back into the recapitulation. You may have heard one or two central climaxes that are more powerful, but few that are as well balanced and just plain musical sounding. I alo like the strict, mentronomic tempo that Zinman keeps during the movement's final funereal procession - there's no rushing into that last climax (capped with a ringing gong stroke).
Until now, I've been focusing on what happens in this recording in the most musical and objective means that I can muster. After all, how one reacts to what they hear is always a personal matter. At this point, it's difficult to make "best ever" type proclamations when so many outstanding recordings already exist. All I can tell you is that this is yet another really fine presentation of Mahler's eternal "Resurrection" symphony. Let's face it, we're really spoiled for choices when it comes to the Mahler symphonies. For that, let's be thankful. Now bring on Zinman's Mahler 3rd - I'll bet it's going to be next to outstanding.