Mahler: Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection)

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Hanssler
ALBUM TITLE: Mahler
WORKS: Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection)
PERFORMER: Sibylla Rubens (soprano), Iris Vermillion (mezzo-soprano); MDR Radio Choir, Leipzig; Suttgart Radio SO, SWR/Roger Norrington
CATALOGUE NO: SACD 93.166 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Sir Roger’s keynote of ‘authentic’ Mahler performance – vibrato-free string playing – doesn’t really impact until the second movement: the cello counter-theme to a fast-moving minuet sounds strange here when shorn of what we like to think of as Viennese grace (though the glissandos are meticulously in place). There are only two places where the flattened-out string sound decisively betrays Mahler’s intentions: the afterglows of the first two ‘Resurrection’ choruses, dragging without the necessary luminosity. Otherwise the lightweight but articulate violins, not always ideally ballasted by less keenly-profiled cellos and basses, encourage orchestral transparency. The Leipzig brass shine unforced: it’s easier than usual to register Mahler’s versatile writing for the horns in the opening funeral rites, and the approach of the extra judgment-day band in the finale is uncannily clear.

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Here, too, the conductor brings off vividly his more impetuous sprints – earlier there are some uneasy ensembles, not least between Iris Vermilion’s cavernous mezzo and her orchestral guiding lights in the middle of ‘Urlicht’ – though the whole thing nearly falls apart where you might least expect it, in the new dawn before the nightingale’s unearthly song. The Leipzig Radio Choir’s professional directness, especially in the honestly-paced closing pages, saves the day. The live recording faithfully respects Norrington’s even balances, though don’t expect the perspectives or secret places of Bernstein’s broader canvas. David Nice