Top positive review
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Original and thoughtful - and in beautiful sound
on 21 May 2009
A swift survey of the many reviews of this version of Mahler's mighty "Resurrection" symphony reveals a bewildering range of responses, utterly unhelpful to anyone looking for guidance in how to pick a recording. The truth is that there are many successful recordings of this work out there, and many will give satisfaction, be it Mehta, Solti, Bernstein or - my favourites - either of the two Klemperer versons, one live, one studio, but this is a worthy addition.
To dispense with the more obvious absurdities I have read: first, the sound. Some complain of too great a dynamic range; I do not have the best equipment but neither do I play these discs on cheap tat, and to my ears the recording quality is incomparably spacious, full, rich and detailed. It strikes me that it's sometimes the same reviewers who recommend harsh, faded historical recordings who then take a self-aggrandising delight in finding imaginary flaws in a wonderful modern version such as this. Secondly, the quality of orchestral playing: you will read cutting criticism of the CBSO - that they are "ragged" and "amateur". Complete rubbish. I heard them many times when I lived in the Midlands, and they were very fine indeed - as they are here. Thirdly, we hear that Rattle is self-consciously "arty" and deliberately, perversely "different". Well, I note that it's the same reviewers who moan elsewhere about the bland, homogenous state of modern conducting who have taken umbrage that Rattle has imposed a clear interpretation upon the music. You can't have it both ways and Rattle is to be commended for having an identifiable, individual overview of the work, even if you don't like it. It is true that he takes an inordinate amount of time making some points and fails to generate the kind of febrile momentum and grim, ironic intensity achieved by Klemperer, but he also avoids the stasis courted by Bernstein in over-indulgent mood. This is a performance which has clearly been very carefully planned and thought through, relying on tightly controlled, painstakingly wrought contrasts. This description implies some slight lack of grandeur and a certain deliberateness in Rattle's manner; there is perhaps some slight disappointment in the final climax, but also compensation in the monumental quality of Rattle's vision. The first movement in particular is awesome - in the true sense. The contributions by a mature-voiced but unfailingly wise and sensitive Dame Janet Baker, the silvery Arleen Augér, and a subtle CBSO Chorus, add enormously to the overall quality. I have also read elsewhere that the praise accorded this recording is the result of the pathetic desire of partisan British critics to crown a new conductor-king. Well, I have no particular bias that way and have not by any means invariably admired Rattle's work, but to my ears this is a performance worthy to stand alongside half a dozen other great ones as another enriching interpretation of a tremendous work.