Mahler: Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection"

Christoph Eschenbach

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Mahler: Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection" Review

by Blair Sanderson

With any recording of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 2 in C minor, "Resurrection," expectations tend to run high because this is one of the most ambitious and emotionally compelling of his symphonies, and this release from Ondine by Christoph Eschenbach and the Philadelphia Orchestra holds more promise than many in the annual yield of Mahler recordings. Certainly, both the conductor and the orchestra are assured in this repertoire, and having them together on a hybrid SACD gives this package excellent prospects. Yet, regrettably, this is just a respectable performance that has some fine touches, some genuine excitement in a few places, and a handful of subtle moments, but on the whole seems to be mostly competent, professional, and polished, not the sublime revelation of redemption that other conductors have delivered. The performers are all skilled, and their singing and playing is mostly accurate, so there can be no disappointment over any mistakes or lapses in execution. There is little wrong with the sound quality, which is generally focused and clear in most details, and the orchestra, soloists, and chorus are captured in their full sonic range. Ultimately, though, this live performance should have been more dramatic, ecstatic, and moving, but Eschenbach holds back on expression and maintains too much technical control over the music to let it achieve its full potential. Even in the climaxes, a return to restraint immediately follows any disruptions, so the energy of Mahler's explosions seems to dissipate, and any feeling of propulsion is lost until the next build-up. In the end, Eschenbach presents the symphony coherently and clearly, but it seems that he only feels its profundity and power too late, at the hushed entrance of the chorus in Klopstock's ode. After that, things feel appropriately apocalyptic, but the grand peroration of the ending is insufficient to make up for the intellectual coolness of the earlier movements. Considering the great popularity of this symphony and the large number of important performances that are available, the listener need not lament the lack of agony and ecstasy here; one should listen to several recordings for the sake of comparison and to find one that elevates the spirit more than this "Resurrection" does.

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