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A literalist reading without any glitches but no inspirationAug. 4 2011
Santa Fe Listener
- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
The Gurzenich orchestra and its popular conductor Markus Stenz are not well known on this side of the Atlantic. In London I heard them in the Mahler Fifth, which became part of a complete cycle that is now unfolding. Here is a concert reading of the Second that can't stand comparison with the great ones, but it doesn't intend to. Stenz is showing how well his musicians can perform Mahler, at a level of proficiency that compares with David Zinman's account on RCA/BMG, although the Zurich Tonhalle is considerably better at finesse and refinement. The Cologne ensemble tends to be blunt and direct.
As for Stenz, his Mahler is also like Zinman's in being literal and without acknowledgement of any previous tradition. It's just the notes, ma'am, just the notes. The Gramophone reviewer found a disjunct between the vigorous first movement and a sudden sag in the rest of the work.) Apparently there's a market for straight-faced literal Mahler performances, of which this is one. Stenz works up excitement in the bolder parts of the first and last movement, but he's weaker at the soft, slow music, tending to let the line sag and lose tension. His mezzo soloist, Michaela Schuster, gives a direct, unaffected account of "Urlicht" that caught my attention. But overall, Zinman has a better orchestra and considerably better recorded sound, which isn't to imply that the sound here is flawed. I know I've barely sketched in the details of this reading, but it has neither high points nor low ones. It puts one foot ahead of the other and gets to the end, just as Zinman does, with solid but uninspired skill.