If all you've ever heard of Hermann Scherchen's Mahler has been his stunted Fifth with the French National Radio Orchestra, his crippled Sixth with the Leipzig Gewandhaus, or his tortured Seventh with the Toronto Symphony, you're not going to believe that Scherchen's recording of Mahler's Second Symphony is one of the work's greatest recordings.
But it is! Listen to his first movement. Listen to the phenomenal accuracy of the cellos and basses at the opening, to the hushed sublimity of the violins for "Resurrection" theme, to the paroxysm at the Pesante at bar 87, to the way he holds the tempo back at bar 104, releases it at bar 117, lets it flow forward at bar 162, pushes it forward at bar 195, eases it forward at bar 207...Listen to the terror at the development's climax. Listen to precision of the Molto pesante and the ritardando just before the recapitulation.
And, believe it or not, it only gets better after that. Listen to Scherchen's second movement. Mahler called it a slow movement and marked it Andante, but Scherchen actually makes it sound like a slow Ländler. Listen to his third movement. Bile and bitterness permeate it but not without keeping it to the calmly flowing tempo Mahler prescribed. Listen to the fourth movement. Innocent yet sublime, full of faith and hope and exquisitely sung by Lucretia West.
And, believe it or not, it only gets better after that. Listen to Scherchen's Finale. Everything coheres: the tempo relationships, the thematic relationships, the ensemble, everything. And everything serves the transcendental goals of the work. Considering that Scherchen's Second dates from 1958, before there was a real tradition of performing or recording Mahler, Scherchen's climaxes are magnificent and magnificently recorded.