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Mahler: Symphony No 2 / Rattle, Augér, City Of Birmingham

Release Date: 03/07/2006 
Label:  Emi Great Recordings Of The Century Catalog #: 45802   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Dame Janet BakerArleen Augér
Conductor:  Simon Rattle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  City of Birmingham Symphony OrchestraCity of Birmingham Symphony Chorus
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 26 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

No matter which recording of this great work you already possess, you must have this one too. It is in a spiritual class of its own, a Mahlerian testament.

Comparisons need to be very select for this performance...Where Simon Rattle's interpretation is concerned, we must go into the realm of such giant Mahlerians as Walter (CBS) and Klemperer (Decca), dissimilar as they were. For we are dealing here with conducting akin to genius, with insights and instincts that cannot be measured with any old yardstick.

Reviewing other recent performances of this vast symphonic fresco, I have complained that no studio recording seems to convey the sheer physical thrill of a live performance, that a dimension—that of
Read more being present in the hall with the performers—is missing. An exception is Walter's recording, and now there is Rattle's. His sense of drama of apocalyptic events, is so strong that at the final chords one is awed. None of this could have been achieved, of course, without the CBSO, who here emerge as an orchestra of world class. With such supple and rich string-playing, such expressive woodwind and infallibly accurate and mellow-toned brass, could anyone, coming upon this recording unawares, be blamed for identifying these players as belonging to Vienna, Berlin or Chicago?Attention to dynamics is meticulous throughout and contributes immeasurably to the splendour of the performance. A double pianissimo is really that, so when triple forte comes along its impact is tremendous. Some of the outstanding features of the performance can be pinpointed: the marvellously emphatic molto pesante before the return to Tempo I at fig. 20 in the first movement; the haunting beauty of the portamento horn-playing and the strings' sensitive and perfectly graded glissandos at fig. 23—immer noch mehr zuruckhaltend (''still more holding back'') indeed; the magical entry of flute and harps just after fig. 3 in the second movement (and, incidentally, the two harps really sound like two throughout, which is rarer than one might think); the really spring. Bogen viola solo 11 bars after fig. 38 in the scherzo; and the frightening eruption of the two fortissimo drum notes just after fig. 51 in the same movement. Then, in the finale, there are the superb woodwind trills, the sense of mounting terror at fig. 8 and two specially glorious moments: the infinitely moving high chord for the first violins, marked zart (''tender'') eight bars after fig. 37 and, three pages further on, the violas' fulfilment of Mahler's mit leidenschaftenlich Ausdruck (''with passionate expression''). Note, too, after fig. 13 how accurately the first trumpet fades his high D from ff to double pp over three bars.

A curiosity is Rattle's slow and deliberate treatment of the descending staccato passage (usually taken at a rush) at the end of the first movement (Tempo I, but not his Tempo I). His tempo for the second movement is fast, like Klemperer's, and catches the music's charm, and he brilliantly evokes the driving terror at the centre of the scherzo. Dame Janet Baker is at her most tender and innig in ''Urlicht'', with Arleen Auger as the soul of purity in the finale. The CBSO Chorus are magnificent, indeed the whole finale, its off-stage brass and echoes beautifully balanced, is an acoustic triumph. No matter which recording of this great work you already possess, you must have this one too. It is, like Tennstedt's of No. 8, in a spiritual class of its own, a Mahlerian testament.

-- Gramophone [10/1987]


The selection of this performance for inclusion in EMI’s series of “Great Recordings of the Century” seems a propitious time for its overdue induction into Fanfare ’s Classical Hall of Fame. It has been 20 years since Sir Simon took his (then) relatively unknown new band, splendid chorus, and two stellar soloists into Watford Town Hall to tackle the work that had propelled the 11-year-old proto-maestro toward his future ambition.

This recording was one of those polarizing productions, praised in some quarters (Michael Kennedy, writing in Gramophone , placed it securely in the Walter/Klemperer class) and panned in others (perennial contrarian David Hurwitz, writing in High Fidelity , suggested that it was “so bad that it’s practically a joke.”). Even the maestro himself has had second thoughts, telling me in an interview for this magazine in 1999 that in the opening of the first movement “the spirit is right, but it’s too much.”

My own opinion has remained remarkably consistent. Remarkable, because I’ve found that some of Rattle’s Mahler recordings have failed to sustain my interest. In this case, my opinion is essentially unchanged: Rattle’s “Resurrection” resides securely among the top five in my collection. Highly characterized, splendidly played and sung, brilliantly recorded, it is a prime example of Rattle’s fearlessly personal commitment to Mahler’s music. A few small examples may help to illustrate what I mean.

In the opening measures, the basses and cellos hesitate in their ascending phrase—or that’s what they seemed to be doing when I first heard this performance. But now they sound quite different to me: with the addition of a tiny amount of rubato, the passage suggests that the struggle to come will be difficult. Another example: the great “plunge” at the end of the first movement is taken at a very deliberate pace, decidedly slower than the tempo 1 marking. But once again, this feels right: the headlong rush that usually concludes the movement is exciting, but just as much an exaggeration as Rattle’s tempo; Rattle’s weary trudge more clearly expresses our despair as the momentary glimpse of paradise eludes us and we plunge to our earthly existence once again. And finally: in consigning the first movement alone to disc 1, Rattle’s recording honors Mahler’s direction that this movement be followed by a pause of at least five minutes; I’m sure that EMI might have preferred to equalize the timings on both discs, but it’s interesting to note that several subsequent recordings followed Rattle’s example.

Such examples are all well and good, but it’s obviously the sum of the parts that’s important. For me, this performance is a noble interpretation of Mahler’s desire, per ardua ad astra , to find the ultimate in transcendental peace, one that he had no hope of attaining during his time on earth. Leonard Bernstein made four commercial recordings of this symphony (counting video); each time, he seemed to find a more extreme solution to his own take on Mahler’s art. Ultimately, Mahler will appeal to the heart, but the head will find much to contemplate.

It only needs to be said that the re-mastered sound manages to improve on the already impressive sonics of the original: there is more natural resonance and spaciousness to the soundstage, while the low-end reproduction is satisfyingly deep. For these reasons, and many others, I am happy to nominate this recording for the Classical Hall of Fame.

FANFARE: Christopher Abbot
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 2 in C minor "Resurrection" by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Dame Janet Baker (Mezzo Soprano), Arleen Augér (Soprano)
Conductor:  Simon Rattle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra,  City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1888/1896; Germany 
Date of Recording: 1986 
Venue:  Watford Town Hall, England 
Length: 85 Minutes 44 Secs. 
Language: German 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 A classic recording of a monumental work April 8, 2012 By Ian M. (Brooyn, NY) See All My Reviews "This performance of the Resurrection delivers. Rattle's interpretation is mesmerizing. This is a classic recording of a monumental work. " Report Abuse
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