Zubin Mehta was once -- or, to be more specific, twice -- a great conductor. Not uncoincidentally, both times were with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1971, Mehta and the VPO made a recording of the Symphony No. 4 of Franz Schmidt, which was then and remains now the best recorded performance of the work. And, proving that lightning can strike twice in the same place, in 1975 Mehta and the VPO made a recording of the Symphony No. 2 of Gustav Mahler, which was then and remains now one of the best recorded performances of the work.
Of course, there are only eight recordings of Schmidt's Fourth, so Mehta's competition isn't exactly stiff. But one suspects that even had there been 80 recordings of the work, Mehta's would still be at or near the top. With the superb and soulful playing of the VPO, Mehta created a performance plumbing the abyss of grief that is Schmidt's Fourth, finding depths of suffering and transcendence that made his performance one of the most moving testimonies to sorrow and loss ever recorded.
And, of course, there have by this time been nearly a hundred recordings of Mahler's Second, so Mehta's competition is about as stiff as it could be. But even so, Mehta's wildly passionate and wonderfully controlled performance is still near the top. With the superlative and spiritual playing of the VPO -- and the blissful singing of Christa Ludwig -- Mehta created a performance embodying the immense anger and ecstatic joy that is Mahler's Second, exploring the depths of fury and the heights of sublimity that make his performance the most profound evidence of the inevitability of transcendence ever recorded. London's late stereo sound was rich, deep, and warm and the digital remastering is even better.