Restlessly romantic 'Resurrection'

Two very different approaches to Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony from the LSO and the Philadelphia Orchestra

Composer: Mahler
Repertoire: Symphony No.2, ‘Resurrection’
Artists: Soloists, Philadelphia Singers Chorale, Philadelphia Orchestra/Eschenbach
Rating:   4/5
Genre: Orchestral
Label: Ondine ODE 1134–2D

Composer: Mahler
Repertoire: Symphony No.2, ‘Resurrection’
Artists: Soloists, London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Valery Gergiev
Rating:  4/5
Genre: Orchestral
Label: LSO Live LSO 0666

Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony features a massive orchestra, including 10 horns, eight trumpets and a large percussion section. ‘Images still drift in and out of my mind when listening to certain passages,’ Mahler later confessed. And no wonder. Although he attempted to quash the original subtitles, we know from his correspondence that the inexorable first movement was intended as a funeral procession for the hero of the First Symphony, while the Scherzo depicts the hero despairing ‘with utter disgust at himself and God’. The epic finale is a monumental setting of Klopstock’s ‘Resurrection’ Hymn, which progresses from awestruck terror at the dead rising from their graves to their transfiguration through love and understanding.  

Although both these fine new interpretations were recorded live, their approaches could hardly be more contrasted. Eschenbach and his Philadelphians emphasise the capital ‘R’ in ‘Romantic’, cocooning this earth-shattering score in a warm glow of expressive luxuriance, emphasising the music’s nostalgic indebtedness to its 19th-century forebears. Eschenbach paces the score with a firm hand so that everything seems to fall inevitably into place.

Gergiev and the London Symphony Orchestra in full cry are more restlessly probing and adrenally free-flowing, pointing up the music’s neurotic soul-searching and daring musical juxtapositions. With Gergiev the music’s emotional subtext comes bubbling to the surface. However, neither version quite rivals the searing incandescence of Bernstein’s live account with the LSO on DVD. JH

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