Notes and Editorial Reviews
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Symphony No. 2
Zubin Mehta, cond; Ileana Cotrubas (sop); Christa Ludwig (alt); Vienna St Op Ch; Vienna PO
DECCA 002894785030 (Blu-ray audio: 81:10
Text and Translation)
Zubin Mehta made three great recordings with the Vienna Philharmonic
Orchestra between 1965 and 1975, including this one, Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony, and Franz Schmidt’s Fourth Symphony. At the same time, he was actively cultivating the dark, burnished, tonal color of the Vienna Philharmonic as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.
After nearly 40 years in the catalog during which time the Mahler symphonies have been recorded or played by virtually every conductor and orchestra, frequently using them as a showcase, Mehta’s “Resurrection” is still felt by many critics to be one of its best recorded performances. Mehta takes a surprisingly crisp, no-nonsense approach, but he broadens the tempo subtly and effectively at key moments such as the brass chorale in the fifth movement and the Finale. This is a refreshing interpretation, with none of the mannered expansiveness and ultra-slow tempos espoused nowadays by Leonard Bernstein wannabees who do not really understand the music but want to sound profound. Mehta creates a sense of inevitability and almost unbearable tension in the buildup to the explosive climax, capped by a monstrous bass drum thwack preceding the hushed entry of the chorus. That choral entry is breathtaking, and the preceding offstage fanfares are spatially just about perfect. Ileana Cotrubas and Christa Ludwig are peerless, and the chorus is outstanding.
This Blu-ray audio disc sounds similar to the excellent Decca Legends CD version except for some enhancement of the already excellent fine inner detail without detracting from the realistic balances between soloists, chorus, organ, and orchestra. The timpani has always been special in this recording. Just listen to the focus and impact of the timpani shots opening the third movement to hear what I mean. They have never been recorded this well. For once, the organ has ample impact and is just about perfectly integrated with the chorus and orchestra at the end. There is one significant sonic issue. Perhaps because of the extreme almost analytical clarity, the high frequencies are sometimes strident, especially in the brass-dominated climaxes.
To sum up, this easily ranks with the best available recordings of Mahler’s Second Symphony. In that it is marginally better than the Decca Legends CD version, primarily in the area of low-level resolution of fine inner detail, it resembles the Decca Blu-ray audio Britten
37: 4) and how that compares with the excellent Decca Originals version. In either case, those subtle details are exactly what appeal to audiophiles, especially with great performances of such large-scale works. Don’t miss it if you have the capability to play Blu-ray audio.
FANFARE: Arthur Lintgen
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 2 in C minor "Resurrection" by Gustav Mahler
Ileana Cotrubas (Soprano),
Christa Ludwig (Alto)
Vienna State Opera Chorus,
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1888/1896; Germany
Date of Recording: 02/1975
Venue: Sofiensaal, Vienna, Austria
Length: 81 Minutes 11 Secs.
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