WORKS: Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection)
PERFORMER: Yvonne Kenny (soprano), Jard Van Nes (mezzo-soprano); LPO & Chorus/Klaus Tennstedt (Royal Festival Hall, 1989)
CATALOGUE NO: LPO 0044
Was it my problem, all those years ago, that I always felt exhausted too soon by Klaus Tennstedt’s Mahler? The London Philharmonic’s latest delve into its archives of live recordings suggests not. The earthy reading slows unnaturally into Mahler’s first glimpse of heaven minutes into the opening funeral rites and never recovers – a paradigm of Tennstedt’s sclerotic way with second subjects.
The nostalgic minuet starts limpingly; the pivotal song-movement is taken at a pace much too slow for the short-winded, under-supported mezzo of Jard van Nes to manage. Where’s the ‘unerring sense of direction’ trumpeted in the liner-note eulogies? We only get it in the last slow burn towards resurrection.
Elsewhere there are fine things: the focused, weighty playing; the charm of the childlike moments, the mighty storm that blows through the gentle pastures of the second movement, and some suitably hard-hitting judgment day climaxes. But it’s not enough, and with the EMI studio recording delivering much of the same with less excess, this won’t be keeping a place on my shelves.
I wonder, in fact, if we’ll ever see the grandiose Tennstedt approach resurfacing. Among younger conductors, Paavo Järvi’s observation of fast and slow extremes is about as far as anyone is prepared to go, and I don’t find it co-ordinates very well.
The great gust that overwhelms the slithery human activity of the scherzo gives us both the best – the spectacular recording is not beyond pulling up-front the skirling harps – and, in the aftermath, the least good; this Järvi is another of those conductors who follow only the last injunction of Mahler’s ‘unmarkedly pulling-back’.
His mezzo Alice Coote then glides in with magisterial warmth, the perfect mediator between the human and the divine to join a roll call that includes Dame Janet Baker, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Anna Larsson.
Soprano Natalie Dessay is a little fussier in her first entry, but matches the mezzo well in her duet, and indeed the extremes of the finale are this performance’s other great asset. Super audio it may not be, but in plain stereo this is certainly state of the art. Trouble is that Nott’s performance (July’s Orchestral Choice) has that and so much more. David Nice