Mahler Symphony No. 2
Where’s the personality here? Some might find it in the straight, no-nonsense furrow Simone Young ploughs through Mahler’s vast, uneven field: even if the opening sequence smacks of Allegro ordinario rather than maestoso, she does impress me with what might be called the centrepiece, or development, of the first movement. It gears up impressively from idyll to march and crisis. But the kind of matter-of-factness which squeezes the whole Symphony rarely, if not uniquely, on to a single CD needs to be complemented by more dynamic finessing and much more character from the penny-plain Hamburg Philharmonic. I wouldn’t blame the recording, which seems to handle the big outcries at the end of the scherzo and throughout the judgement day finale rather well.
Soloistically, very little stands out aside from a charismatic clarinet and doomsday trombone. Young fails to make the songful violin counterpoint to the minuet’s last flourish really gleam. The crooning of alto Dagmar Pecková – poor throughout – makes for an unimpressive entry. After too long a silence, the Resurrection chorale lacks atmosphere (though at least there are Latvian basses on hand to ballast the lower lines). You would hardly object to this performance if you caught it on the radio, or even live, but it doesn’t begin to compare with the fresh insights of Markus Stenz in Cologne – a highlight among several fine Resurrections last year, bizarrely on the same label. You might otherwise look to the gleaming canvas of Claudio Abbado in Lucerne, which is best experienced on DVD.