Gustav Mahler: Symphony N °2 “Auferstehung”
Chen Reiss (soprano), Karen Cargill (mezzo-soprano), Netherlands Radio Choir, Klaas Stok (chorus master), The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Daniele Gatti (conductor)
Live recording: The Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, Netherlands (September 18, 2016) – 88’25
RCO #RCO17003 – Booklet in German, English, French and Dutch
The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra has a long and proud Mahler tradition so it is no surprise that its current “chief conductor”, Daniele Gatti, should record the Symphony N° 2, known as the Auferstehung (“Resurrection”) the very month he assumed the position. (His three predecessors, Bernard Haitink, Riccardo Chailly, and Mariss Jansons, also recorded it with the RCO.)
Like so many recordings of the work, it is on two CDs with the first rather brief (22-minute) movement occupying the first. This calls attention to the fact that Mahler expressed a desire for a five-minute pause after this movement in recognition of the fact that it was composed a full five years before the other movements - in fact it might have ended up as a single-movement piece entitled Todtenfeier (“Funeral Ceremony.”)
The recording is an audiophile’s delight, demonstrating the sheer quality of this justly-heralded orchestra not to forget the top-notch choir. Gatti’s approach calls attention to the design of the work’s many parts with well-defined pauses. The booklet contains his statements about his approach, with his concept of the work in terms of its “space”, noting that “I take responsibility for ‘stretching’ that space.” He also calls attention to the many fermatas in the final movement, and while I am impressed (very!) by his account of the first four movements, the first half of the lengthy final movement is simply too attentuated. The wonderful chorus, singing in the required hushed tone (whispering for long stretches) manages to maintain its lines, but the whole enterprise meanders self-indulgently. He takes almost 40 minutes for this movement which puts him among the most leisurely. I realize timing itself isn’t the measure, but in this case the extended “space” simply calls too much attention to itself.
Gatti mentions that the fermatas “can be frightening for audiences because there is no sense of pulse.” I can’t say I was frightened, just unconvinced - and I want to be convinced.
One smaller cavil: the microphones capture an intrusive throb in the voice of Karen Cargill in the opening lines of “Urlicht.” (Many might find this denotes rapt sincerity.)
Still this is, in many ways, a stunning performance. The thunderous opening of the final movement is the most hair-raising moment, but there are many such goosebump passages, as well as many that are meltingly beautiful. I would have loved to have attended.
Despite this being a recording of a live performance, there is not the faintest hint of audience presence.