2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
I heard this Mahler 2 by Zinman and his Zurich team right after the new recording by Haitink and the CSO. I admired the latter for its silvery, fluid quality, the amazing solowork from the Chicago players, the singing by Christianne Stotijn, and a great number of beauties in the quieter passages - yet I also found it way too polite, almost wilfully underplayed, and I came away asking myself where the drama and the joy of it all was. I found it in plenty in this RCA recording, which for reasons I cannot fathom has been qualified as lightweight and faceless by reviewers here and elsewhere. It seems a cliché has been affixed to Zinman's style and is now being deployed with such vigour that it interferes with unbiased listening. Well, if faceless means `true to the score', give me a faceless performance anytime. Zinman hardly sets a foot wrong in the 80 minutes of this huge symphonic collage. All the accents are in the right place, there are no attempts at originality by ignoring Mahler's tempos, and the entire range from pppp to fff is encompassed (even though like just about everyone else Zinman can't resist to let the double basses come in ff at #4 in the Andante instead of at the written pp). Like in the Seventh, another recording from this cycle that I liked very much, his sense of balance is unerring, and the ear is tantalized by details rarely heard. Zinman is of course helped by a terrific recording, true and clear, with ample space around the instruments and a tremendous dynamic range.
The start of the first movement for once sounds truly `wild' (quite unlike Haitinks perfunctory opening). Throughout the piece momentum is never lost, and while the climaxes are perfectly realized and have tremendous weight, the lovely, quiet secondary material is played with a great sense of poetry and mystery. The great Pesante just before the reprise, where the whole funereal machine runs aground in searingly dissonant triplets, might have come across yet more powerfully at a somewhat slower tempo, but that's just about the only quibble I can think of.
The Andante is all loveliness and is played with great refinement. The left-right division of first and second violins pays off here. So does Zinman's detailed ear for Mahler's accents (here and elsewhere he scrupulously articulates the many ^ marks). The Scherzo has just he right, fleeting tempo, and I was relieved to hear that the Zurich e-flat clarinet player knows what `mit Humor' means. The well-defined timps and bass drum are a particular delight in this movement, that moves towards a beautifully realized climax.
Anna Larsson sings Urlicht stylishly and with feeling; all the more pity that she was miked too close and therefore sounds too loud. Nor is her contribution, wonderful as it is, quite as distinctive as some (Petra Lang for Chailly and Stotijn for Haitink come to mind). The Finale crashes in with all requested noise. Zinman holds the disjointed piece together very well. The first appearance of the Resurrection theme, with beautifully powerful horns, is memorable to say the least. The Fernorchester is ideally distanced, though I don't understand why no more trouble was taken to realize the antiphonal and echo effects indicated by Mahler - a studio recording makes that easy. Still, the Ivesian marching band that appears at #22 gets a better outing than on most recordings. In the final Grosse Appel the flute solos are phrased in a way that turns them into pure birdsong, a touching effect.
The fact that a chamber choir was involved in the recording may seem worrying to some. However, not only does the group sing beautifully, there is also ample power in reserve (compare their Bereite dich! to the timid attempt by Haitinks singers...) In fact, and unfortunately, the chorus is too loud in the pp and ppp throughout; more so are the two soloists, who even in the forte are clearly audible above the full chorus, not an effect that I found particularly fortunate. But as the symphony reaches its apex there is a true sense of occasion, of shared ecstasy, that makes short work of such niggles. The coda is absolutely magnificent, the sense of splendour much enhanced by a sonorous organ and riotous bell-ringing (even though the bells are hardly of the deep variety requested by Mahler); - unfortunately, the succession of high and low tamtam strokes are inaudible in the general noise; but a glorious noise it is, and it left me reeling with sheer joy. I by now own at least 20 recordings of this work, ranging from the absurdly overrated Klemperer to Bernstein, Solti, Fischer and, as said, the recent Haitink - this Zinman goes right to the top of the list.
12 of 17 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
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.