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This review is from: Mahler: Symphony 2 'Resurrection' (Audio CD)
'Resurrection' represents the creative peak of Mahler's first symphonic trilogy - the so-called Wunderhorn symphonies. It has been described, by Henry Louis de la Grange, as 'one of the most impressive, most original creations ever to spring from the mind of man.' Huge claims, but Symphony No2 in c is an epic work, with the ability to captivate the listener through, amongst other things, hypnotic repetition of subtly varied phrases (in a way that anticipates minimalism), through immense dynamic contasts, colour, melody and pattern.
What makes Rattle so accomplished a Mahlerian is his great sense of colour and contrast. Despite the monumental forces assembled for occasionally awesome exhibitions of power (six horns and six trumpets for most of the work, becoming ten of each for the finale!), it is the contrasting moments of reduced, even solo, sound (solo violin, harp etc.) that provide the necessary counterbalance and tonal interest. Even when everything is at full stretch, clarity rather than power is the hallmark of a successful recording, as here. In terms of tempo, Rattle is not as rushed as Solti, for example. The descending scale at the end of the first movement is weightier and more deliberate than in any other interpretation I've heard. It works. The sound he creates, meanwhile, isn't as mannered as in the excellent Wyn Morris recording of 1977 - spoilt, for me, by excessively sliding strings.
Rattle is thoroughly acquainted with this music after practically a lifetime's experience. Alongside its solemnity, eccentricity and brute force, 'Resurrection' is also lyrical, subtle, folk-inspired and whimsical, and such multi-dimensionality isn't lost on the performers in this recording. The Second Symphony may not quite be Mahler's supreme achievement, but it is always a deeply engaging, life-enhancing one. His attempt to convey such things as Armageddon and resurrection through music might ultimately be considered a failure or an irrelevant programmatic distraction. In the right hands, however, and in a musically 'absolute' sense, it is an exhilarating artistic achievement.