Mahler: Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection); Adagio from Symphony No. 10

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: Telarc
WORKS: Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection); Adagio from Symphony No. 10
PERFORMER: Barbara Bonney (soprano), Mary Phillips (mezzo-soprano); Atlanta SO & Chorus/Yoel Levi
CATALOGUE NO: 2CD-80548
Resurrections seem to come two-a-penny from the second-league American orchestras, but this one shines with a special lucidity. Although Yoel Levi has in previous Mahler instalments done sterling work with the Atlanta strings, their exposed role in the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies inevitably rendered them poor competition for Berlin and Vienna rivals; and so it is, too, in the Adagio from the Tenth here, carefully charted at a virtually uniform tempo. The brass carry the day, though, in the main event of the Second Symphony. In their mellow, German folk harmonies, the horns are ideally rounded, wistful and poetic (they would make an Atlanta Klagende Lied worth hearing); full ensembles sitting in judgement are resonantly underpinned by tubas and trombones. It’s a pity, though, that the off-stage band is so distant, and has to cope with one of Levi’s occasionally mannered speeds. Mania is bridled until the last panic before the nightingale sings, but the superbly engineered sonorities and the luminous detail always hold the listener in thrall, even when you have to strain to catch the finer nuances.

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In the minuet and scherzo, Levi lets the phrases float and billow. Every player is a fine singer here, so it’s a shock when Mary Phillips begins her Wunderhorn song so unmagically and finds none of the necessary half-lights. Even Barbara Bonney looms too readily out of the choral mass in the finale, but the full forces, abetted by vividly recorded percussion and timpani, carry the palm. Hardly aspiring to the white-heat extremes of a Bernstein, this is an immaculately prepared Resurrection which offers many surprisingly gentle, caressing pleasures. David Nice