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Mahler, Symphony No. 2 ("Resurrection"), J. Banse, A. Larsson, Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, Schweizer Kammerchor, D. Zinman (released on May 29, 2007)
The second symphony was the first Mahler work to enter my consciousness, through a collegiate performance of it as a chorus member. The piece immediately impresses on the ears a sense of transcendence, but in spite of listening to it for so many years, I still find many things about Mahler 2 mysterious. Mahler characterized it as the funeral for the hero of his first symphony, while its scherzo movement (quoted and deformed so memorably in Berio's Sinfonia) is musically related to Mahler's own song Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt. The artwork on this CD's cover, Arnold Böcklin's Saint Anthony preaching to the fish, is a sardonic commentary on that story. The shark listens piously to Anthony's sermon, fins crossed as if at church, but in the lower panel (cropped out on the CD cover), it goes back to its old ways, eating little fish (the same irony is present in the poem Mahler set, from Des Knaben Wunderhorn).
What do Urlicht (fourth movement) and Auferstehn, ja auferstehn (fifth movement) mean, exactly? The fourth movement contrasts with the spirit of secularism in the scherzo, as if the hero were one of the fish hearing -- but not listening to -- Anthony's sermon. Mahler described the fifth movement as a sort of Last Judgment, and the hero's soul sees itself rise from oblivion toward the creator. However, the words that Mahler added to the verses from Klopstock's Resurrection chorale (which Mahler heard at the funeral of Hans von Bülow) transform the Lutheran background to something not really Christian. Whatever it means, no one could ignore this exquisite O Röschen rot! from contralto Anna Larsson, which Zinman never rushes, allowing his singer to unravel the melody from its harmonic background in a suspended trance-like -- but still speech-like -- way. Equally striking, the fifth movement has the full dynamic range from sonic boom to ghostly whisper. Once again, although the first three movements leave me a little cold, David Zinman has shown exceptional promise for his Mahler cycle.
RCA Red Seal (Sony BMG) 82876 87157 2
A recording of Mahler's third symphony from David Zinman and the Zurich Tonhalle-Orchester is expected this October.