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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best in Boulez's cycle, 26 May 2006
Alexander Leach (Shipley, West Yorkshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Mahler: Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection" (Audio CD)
This is the penultimate release in Boulez's Mahler series (the Eighth will be issued next year). It has been a fine cycle, though some releases have not been comparable with the competition - but this is one of the best ones. The performance is complete on a single CD, timing about 80'30 minutes.

While listening I've compared this to Kaplan's fine recording of the same work, with the same orchestra in the same hall - and on the same label. But the interpretations are really different, especially in I-III.

Boulez's VPO sounds a little closer to the microphones here, with the added benefit of more detail and increased impact, especially in the bass. But Kaplan's soundstage sounds slightly wider. In brief - they are both excellent sonically.

In the opening movement Boulez is very direct and dynamic with some crunching orchestral chords, with lower strings and brass cutting through the texture. There's not much interventionist `interpretation' here, unlike Tilson Thomas's reading on Avie, or even Kaplan, who sounds less controlled than Boulez. But this performance sounds powerful with real edge-of-seat playing.

In the second movement there's more bringing out of the cello line in the long winding melody near the start. This sounds great, and again, it's original.

Tempo-wise Boulez starts off the work just on the fast side of normal, and little by little speeds up - which means that by the time he hits the closing pages of the third movement, he's going at a fair clip. That movement comes in at 9'27, about a minute faster than most. I really like this effect, though some might feel it a little hasty (some parts zoom past almost sounding like sections of Waldteufel's `Skater's Waltz'). But I think a fast tempo works well here - and it's certainly different in this era of cookie-cutter Mahler 2s.

Things settle down a little for `Urlicht', which is superbly done, with the mature and serene singing of Michelle de Young sounding suitably sombre, with a slight beat in her voice adding a hint of sadness.

The finale is also well done, in fact this is perhaps the highlight of the performance, with Boulez's masterly control of the ebb and flow. This has to be one of the most convincing accounts ever recorded with even some of the more vulgar march passages coming off better than any other version I've heard. It held my attention more than Kaplan's I think. Here also the superb recording comes into its own, with a wonderful sense of depth to the sound with chorus ideally 'placed' in the sonic picture. Timpani are also ideally focused and the lower strings and brass add real weight. Perhaps the organ is a little recessed but that's a minor quibble for me.

Christine Schafer and Michelle de Young are first rate soloists, with the former's slight portamenti, for example on her opening statement, giving moments of real beauty. The choral singing is generally first rate as well, though on occasions (e.g. the sforzato entry at 30'13) the chorus can't quite match the attack of Abbado's Lucerne singers (also on DG) - though overall I find Boulez's interpretation more convincing than Abbado's live account.

If you're collecting Boulez's Mahler series than you can add this without hesitation - I've owned or heard most of them, and would place this as one of the best, perhaps alongside the imposing Cleveland Seventh (with its fast second Nachtmusik) and above the Fourth and Sixth, but slightly below the Third, which really is a plausible first recommendation for the work, certainly among digital sets. This Second is certainly much better than Boulez's rather cerebral accounts of the First, Fifth and Ninth, none of which challenge the very best in my view.

Confirmed Mahlerians generally should consider this performance as a supplement to their favourite accounts, as it offers a unique interpretation, superbly played and recorded. On a single disc it really is an easy choice.

If you're a newcome to the `Resurrection' don't hesitate in picking this up either, but with so many other excellent accounts out there maybe I would place a few others alongside it.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Huge drama and a magnificently fulfilled conclusion, 23 May 2010
Colin Fortune (Birmingham, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Mahler: Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection" (Audio CD)
By anybody's standard this is already a remarkable disc, squeezing well over the normal 80 minutes of superlatively recorded sound onto on one item. The sheer clarity of the vision is breathtaking and I found myself thinking that Boulez's famed "objectivity" has produced a completely non-langourous performance that sounds almost like a so-called "original instrument" perfomance would in an ideal world (and not like the rather unfortunate Norrington Mahler - Symphony No 2. Two points; firstly Boulez's interpretation is precisely that, keeping very much up to speed and following the markings in the score it is an INTERPRETATION of mercurial quality and great musical insight (i.e. not the boring run-through that Boulez's detractors sometimes leave people to expect); secondly, the Vienna Philharmonic are at their most clear and disciplined, completely lacking any lush schmalz EXCEPT WHERE THE MUSIC DEMANDS IT. So, for example, string "slides" are gentle and moving rather than sentimental.

The great first movement opens with short-breathed and edgy playing from the strings in particular. The strange disjointed rhythms are given full weight, the climaxes build inexorably, intersperced by moments of fragile beauty and repose. Boulez produces a great piece of musical drama, fully in tune with the orgiginal motion of the first movement standing alone conceived as a tone poem ("Funeral Rites" or "Totenfeier") and yet, because of the disciplined playing, laying down the majopr symphonic themes that are to develop to reach such realms of magnificence in the Finale. You need to stop the player after this for the " least five minues..." that Mahler suggested intervened between Parts I and II.

Part II starts with a swift second music and continues with an even swifter scherzo. Perhaps some might feel that there is something unrelenting about this latter movement (the "Altvaterisch" menuetto is charming in my opinion) but then the Wunderhorn song from which the movement derives is a piece of rather dark humour.

Boulez is not kind the Ms de Young as he makes her sing "Urlicht" very slowly compared to most other versions. Hence her vibrato, at the very start of the song, is almost a wobble and her tone is a little maternal. This soon rights itself and her singing is full of feeling - if a little lacking in naivety.

The great Finale is stupendously managed with a wonderfully visionary climax before the Grosser Appel and the gloriously vulgar march of the Risen. The offstage brass is very distant (but not quite as much as in the case of the other tremendous modern Mahler 2 that is available: Fischer's Mahler - Symphony No 2 - Fischer is, by the way, a complementary performance to this one: both are good, get both if you can afford to, but either will give great pleasure). When the human voices emerge with the choir's "Aufersteh'n..." the mood becomes reflective and solemn. Boulez slows up considerably at this point and his solists cover themselves with glory by the way they sustain the slowness and sing so movingly. The final minutes of the work are deeply moving and recorded with great richness and clarity. They are also amongst the grandest and most noble of any recording of this symphony!

This is a very fine recording but it won't suit everyone. If you like Tennstedt's or Bernstein's more m onumental performances, you might well find this recording a bit of a challenge. Personally I think there is room for both types of approach and such is the wealth and availability of great modern recordings (and some fine vintage ones like Bruno Walter Mahler - Symphonies Nos 1 & 2 and Otto Klemperer Mahler - Symphony 2).

Another reviewer has used Gilbert Kaplan's DGG/Vienna Philharmonic recording as a comparison Mahler: Symphony No. 2 "Ressurrection" - something I found very interesting - and I would agree about the richness of both the recordings and the differences in focus. However, Boulez the modern composer and vastly experienced orchestral conductor, wins here because of the sheer musicality of his conception. This recording has been a great discovery for me and I urge you to hear it.
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