Mahler: Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection); Totenfeier

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COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection); Totenfeier
PERFORMER: Melanie Diener (soprano), Petra Lang (mezzo-soprano); Prague Philharmonic Choir, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Riccardo Chailly
CATALOGUE NO: 470 283-2
Only a conductor as finely attuned to texture and balance as Chailly could make you want to listen to the Resurrection’s first movement and its original version, Totenfeier, on the same set of discs. The differences, to be honest, are not so substantial that Mahler’s first thoughts need to be aired more than once in a while; changes in orchestration and in the middle portion of the movement were all for the better, though the different teams of engineers here mean that Totenfeier comes across as carved in marble while its usurper tends to be painted on silk. The recording of the Symphony goes for discreet natural ambience, sometimes at the expense of definition. As a result, not everything projects well, and even the wonderful Petra Lang sounds a little defenceless in ‘Urlicht’. Yet there’s no doubt that the wind and brass ensemble which follows her opening invocation hangs suspended here in the middle distance, and all the spatial effects register well (hauntingly abetted by the artistic piccolo-player in the nightingale-calls around the Last Trump).

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Chailly himself encourages a sense of space around his Judgment Day canvas; the parts, as so often, are more impressive than the whole. I find myself increasingly more drawn to those conductors who have an urgent tale to tell in this score; after Kubelík and Decca’s previous Resurrection spectacular conducted by Blomstedt, it’s hard to put up with some of the visionary byways indulged in here. Yet there must be listeners more inclined to find this early piece of cosmic symphonic theatre the genuine, spiritual article than I do, and they may like to sit, pray and contemplate with Maestro Chailly. David Nice