Mahler: Symphony No. 2

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Oehms Classics
WORKS: Symphony No. 2
PERFORMER: Christiane Oelze (soprano), Michaela Schuster (mezzo-soprano); Kartäuserkantorei Köln, Bach-Verein Köln, Madrigalchor und Kammerchor der Hochschule für Musik Köln, Figuralchor Bonn & Gürzenich-Orchester Köln/Markus Stenz
CATALOGUE NO: Oehms Classics OC 647 (hybrid CD/SACD)


I used to consign the Resurrection Symphony, with what I thought were its callow, theatrical metaphysics, to my blind-spot quota, liking it least of Mahler’s ten. Now it comes up fresher with every enlightening performance, which this year have included Kazushi Ono in Birmingham live, Simon Rattle’s latest EMI version (for all its drawbacks), Vladimir Jurowski recorded in London, and now this latest instalment from an ongoing Cologne project.

Markus Stenz’s is the kind of lightning-flash, clearly etched interpretation I imagine Roger Norrington wanted over in Stuttgart but always scotched with his dubious musicological agenda. There’s not much vibrato here, but plenty of portamento (sliding from note to note), as Mahler asks. Moreover, there’s a lucid balance between strings, wind and brass, even if trumpets and trombones, along with bow-on-wood strings, can be blunted by the tricky Cologne acoustics.


You can, as always, gauge so much from the Symphony’s opening bars: a wild attack indeed, as Mahler asks, from focused cellos and basses, prophesying terrific turmoil; the dissonant hurling-back to the starting point two thirds of the way through the first-movement funeral rites is electrifying. But, between all the clarity, there are also dewy intimations of heaven; the minuet and the mezzo-soprano’s solo both have a real innocence, and the scherzo slithers – but clearly. Both soloists, Michaela Schuster and Christiane Oelze, ooze meaning, as does the choir – but it doesn’t sound as large or as meaty as the five listed ensembles promise, a slight final disappointment. Still, there are details here that I will return to constantly for illustration and enlightenment. David Nice