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Finally - lovers of Levine's Mahler are spoilt for choice
, 13 Oct. 2011
This review is from: Mahler: Symphony No. 2 ( Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra / Levine 1989 Salzburg Festival) (Audio CD)
Given that devotees of Levine's Mahler have had to make to with his excellent but incomplete bargain RCA box set from the 70's, we have since been on the look-out for supplementary recordings of the "Resurrection" and the "Symphony of a Thousand". These have now been forthcoming: two live recordings of the former both from 1989 and for the latter a download of limited availability of the recording of one of the more recent Boston concerts.
Fellow-reviewer and co-admirer of Levine's Mahler Stewart Crowe details in his fine and enthusiastic review why he so admires this performance and is of the opinion that it eclipses his Israeli version. While I agree with and endorse virtually everything he says in his review, I am not so sure that one is clearly better than the other; in fact I see them in parity.
Timings and interpretation are very similar indeed - hardly surprising for two live recordings made within a few months of each other. Both share Christa Ludwig who, it seems to me, is either slightly better recorded or in marginally better voice in February for the Israeli recording and both have excellent soprano soloists although Kathleen Battle has a more shimmering, glamorous star-quality to her voice for Levine in Salzburg. The sound in Israel is richer and fuller but afflicted by a hiss, for all that it is a digital recording; however, the Salzburg recording has been made at too low a volume and is rather distant in comparison but still crisp and defined when you crank it up a bit.
Surprisingly, there is not so much to choose between the VPO, one of the world's premier outfits, and the Israeli band who play as if their lives depended on it. Mr Crowe has remarked upon a few blats and blips in the Salzburg brass but the Israelis have more flaws in their intonation. There is greater transparency and subtlety in the Vienna sound but the Israelis manage to create great warmth and heft. Both choirs are superb. I agree that the cumulative tension of the last movement is perhaps better paced and slightly more mysterious in Salzburg but on both occasions Levine creates magic and his audience respond with wild applause.
I have come to the assumption that some of the small determined clique of Levine-bashers derive their anitpathy for him from the fact that they are also Karajan-haters and Levine was one of the few conductors he admired and advanced. More fools they; they are allowing an irrational, unaesthetic prejudice to deprive themselves of a proper appreciation of a truly great Mahler conductor.
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