Mahler: Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mahler
LABELS: LSO Live; Ondine
WORKS: Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection)
PERFORMER: Elena Mosuc (soprano), Zlata Bulycheva (mezzo-soprano); London Symphony Chorus; LSO/Valery Gergiev (LSO Live); Simona Saturová (soprano), Yvonne Naef (mezzo-soprano); Philadelphia Singers Chorale; Philadelphia Orchestra/Christoph Eschenbach (Ondine)
CATALOGUE NO: LSO 0666 (hybrid CD/SACD) (LSO Live); ODE 1134-3D (hybrid CD/SACD) (Ondine)

Advertisement

Gergiev’s Resurrection is like many other instalments of his LSO Mahler cycle: masterful in illuminating the moment, less clear – to me, at any rate – about where it’s heading or why.

He eventually justifies a leisurely take on the misty plains of heaven all too briefly glimpsed between the tense tread of the opening funeral march, and in its smoking coda he certainly conjures spectral atmosphere. That veiled quality haunts what’s usually a more genial minuet, with a good case also made for fierce, weird sounds in the stormy interludes.

But shouldn’t Mahler’s vision of humanity going its own heedless way in the scherzo be more easy-going, at least to start with, and for the anchoring song of mankind’s need was it a good idea to turn to the weighty, hardly tender, contralto-ish tones of Mariinsky singer Zlata Bulycheva?

It is in this movement that Christoph Eschenbach’s Philadelphia performance – also live, though curiously not this time in SACD sound – really begins to take on truthful depths. While his first movement is more remarkable for long-term structural grip and dynamic detail than any especially striking sonorities, and its two successors seem a little dampened in their orchestral colours, in ‘Urlicht’ there’s a palpable presence in the brass chorales, and Eschenbach’s more sensitive mezzo, Yvonne Naef, breaks up the long phrases he demands with intelligence, and conveys warm human sympathy throughout.

Gergiev’s judgment day canvas proceeds in fits and starts towards a hurried peroration – though some of the adrenalin charges are undeniably exciting – but Eschenbach held me rapt at both ends of the dynamic spectrum, holding the tension almost as commandingly as Bernstein (DG) through some very slow tempos.

The most extreme – the soprano’s echoing of the mezzo’s plea for belief – again carries conviction from the soloist, Simona Saturova, and the Philadelphia Singers Chorale pulls all the stops out in a grand apotheosis where the recording’s naturally weighty bass comes into its own.

Advertisement

The LSO’s sound team scores with greater presence for the offstage band, and what the Barbican may lack in space for a work like this is won back to a certain extent by the SACD format. Eschenbach’s finale is sufficiently resplendent to require no sequel; the latest LSO Live release also gives us the Adagio from the Tenth Symphony, as far as Gergiev was prepared to go in his cycle and bringing with it some luminous string playing. David Nice