Valery Gergiev conducts the Munich Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra in a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Gustav Mahler
LABELS: Münchner Philharmoniker
ALBUM TITLE: Mahler
WORKS: Symphony No. 2 (Resurrection)
PERFORMER: Anne Schwanewilms (soprano), Olga Borodina (mezzo); Munich Philharmonic Choir & Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: 9305211204

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It’s hard to know how to star-rate performances like these. Take my final four as standing somewhere between five for intellectual conviction and three for emotional engagement. If you have doubts about the coherence of either of these symphonies, then Valery Gergiev should not only still them, but convince you that these are both magnificently original structures, purposeful from first to last, however many sidesteps or pauses for reflection there may be along the way. If, on the other hand, you like your Mahler and/or Bruckner full of ardour, heavenly vistas and sweetly touching folk colouring, then Gergiev’s austere single-mindedness will neither stir nor charm. Mahler’s notorious sardonic humour doesn’t come across very vividly either: there may be a dark edginess in the playing at times, but not much acid.

Both performances held me as musical narratives, and yet I can’t remember being so un-stirred by Mahler’s quietly climactic ‘Bereite dich zu leben!’ (‘Prepare yourself to live!’) in a long time – and that isn’t just because Olga Borodina’s intonation sags towards the end of the phrase. It reminds me a little of Karajan at his paradoxical best/worst: magnificently convincing in its artistic overview, rather less persuasive when it comes to what Henry James called the ‘sharpness of human contact.’

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Stephen Johnson