Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 2,
Pierre Boulez, cond; Diana Damrau (sop); Petra Lang (mez); St Op Ch Berlin (Eberhard Friedrich, dir); Staatskapelle Berlin
EUROARTS 2054418 (DVD: 89:00) Live: Berlin 3/26–27/2005
Thanks to the surprising proliferation of Mahler’s music on DVD, there are multiple performances of this particular symphony with which to compare this new one (not least among them Bernstein’s and Abbado’s); there is also Boulez’s own previous performance
with the Vienna Philharmonic, made a couple of months after this concert, available on one generous DG CD, to consider by way of comparison.
Thanks to recent recordings by Daniel Barenboim (in the audience at the concerts recorded for this DVD), the Staatskapelle Berlin has emerged as a compelling purveyor of Mahler’s music; Boulez’s recording of the Second was a surprising success for me (30: 2). It would appear, therefore, that this DVD has the makings of a very enlightening experience, particularly for those of us who don’t have access to this kind of concert on a regular basis. There is in addition a touching moment: a bonus chapter depicts Boulez’s appointment as Honorary Conductor of the Staatskapelle Berlin.
For those of us lucky enough to have seen Boulez in concert, his modest, undemonstrative conducting style can appear to be either austere or quietly commanding—I tend to the second opinion. Looking remarkably fit (the titles include reference to the conductor’s 80th birthday), Boulez leads the musicians—many of whom appear to be quite young—through the challenges of this huge score. Interestingly enough, Boulez seats his strings according to Mahler’s practice: violins to the left and right, cellos and violas to the center left and right, respectively, and basses to the rear of the first violins. This brings greater clarity to the string music, which is quite clear already, thanks to the precision of Boulez’s conducting (and ear): this is most evident during the “pizzicato” section of the second movement.
While the performance is (not surprisingly) similar to that of the DG recording, the outer movements are allowed some more time in Berlin; this gives added dimension—and not just in terms of timing—especially at the beginning and end of the work. This is evident, for instance, in the last iteration of the “paradise” theme in the first movement—there is a deep sense of longing communicated here.
It was easy to write about a “Viennese” quality to the second movement of the DG recording, but here there is the same sense of easy opulence and a hint of envy, as the dance commences, pauses, and resumes, each time with a bit more regret. The third movement has the same sense of fluid momentum as in the Vienna performance, where I had remarked on the relatively quick pace; this performance is a good 30 seconds longer, but there is the same sense of light playing on shifting waters, ending with the cataract of that brief glimpse into the cataclysm of the finale.
In Vienna, Boulez had the formidable Michelle DeYoung for “Urlicht”; here he has the services of Petra Lang, no stranger to this music, featuring in Seconds conducted by Litton and Chailly. Hers is an earnest rather than endearing mezzo, but this is an accurate and effective performance. The finale crashes in, with very deep-sounding bass drum (I auditioned in PCM stereo sound; Dolby 5.1 and DTS are also available). The off-stage horn calls are effectively distanced. I noted the almost architectural precision with which Boulez assembled the elements of his finale in Vienna; this performance is no different, with the very substantive gain of watching the drama unfold as well as listening to it: the sheer physicality of the “opening of the graves” segment, for example, is thrilling. The chorus of the Staatsoper sings with beauty of tone and a pleasing heft; the sound production captures their contribution with satisfying fullness. Soprano Diana Damrau sings with angelic clarity.
This is one of those videos where the sense of occasion is part of the experience—I wouldn’t be without the Bernstein “Resurrection” filmed in the majestic environs of Ely Cathedral, now available on DVD; nor would I want to sacrifice the DVD of Abbado’s Second at the Lucerne Festival (29:3). Add to that very special pair this concert by Pierre Boulez and the Staatskapelle Berlin. Highly recommended.
FANFARE: Christopher Abbot
Picture format: NTSC 16:9 anamorphic
Sound format: PCM Stereo / Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Region code: 0 (all)
Subtitles: German, English, French, Spanish
Booklet notes: English, German, French
Running time: 89 mins (Partitas)
No. of DVDs: 1 Read less
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 2 in C minor "Resurrection" by Gustav Mahler
Petra Lang (Mezzo Soprano),
Diana Damrau (Soprano)
Berlin Staatskapelle Orchestra
Written: 1888/1896; Germany
Date of Recording: 3/2005
Venue: Philharmonie, Berlin
Be the first to review this title