Mahler Symphony No. 2 ‘Resurrection’
Ruby Hughes (soprano), Sasha Cooke (mezzo-soprano); Minnesota Chorale & Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
BIS BIS-2296 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Osmo Vänskä has very clear ideas of his own about Mahler, as his account of the Fifth Symphony which launched the Minnesota cycle splendidly demonstrated. The disadvantage of that in this Resurrection comes, for me, very early on: after a swift, rather lightweight signing-in for fire and fury, the first movement’s initial glimpse of heaven almost grinds to a halt. Mahler rather puzzlingly writes ‘im Tempo nachgeben’ (relaxing into the tempo), but it doesn’t seem to be a different one from the opening Allegro maestoso. On its return, this climbing theme is as beautifully pianissimo as you’ll ever hear on a recording; but the slow speed kills it.
After one more extreme, a pressing-forward of the contrasting passage in the second movement before it winds down into the Andante moderato, there’s nothing more objectionable. Character and clarity give the scherzo adaptation of the song ‘St Anthony’s sermon to the fishes’ (who all listen, then go on doing what they did before) a perfect theatrical character. The ‘cry of disgust’ that temporarily engulfs the slithery activity is hugely impressive and points the way forward to a finale as vivid as any, with BIS’s sound-picture heightening the abysses and the tumults (a phenomenal presence for tam-tam and bass drums in an always clear offstage band). There’s a poised ‘Urlicht’ solo from mezzo Sasha Cooke, a rather soft-grained soprano contribution from Ruby Hughes, both placed admirably in a natural sound picture; the pay-off is huge, as it should be.