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Zinman's Resurrection in Zurich

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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)
Shortly after the first installment of David Zinman's Mahler cycle with the Zurich Tonhalle-Orchester, there is this Resurrection symphony. Pierre Boulez's most recent recording of Mahler 2 quickly became a favorite after it was recommended by Jens. Zinman's reading is unlikely to dislodge it from that position, but it is poised to be a contender. The Zurich rendition has some stodgy moments, perhaps the result of a too heavy approach by Zinman. It seems much slower than Boulez's recording with the Vienna Philharmonic, but in fact they are of approximately the same length. True, Boulez's first three movements are between 0:43 and 1:16 shorter than the corresponding movements by Zinman, but Boulez takes the final two movements more expansively, and Zinman is faster in both, by almost two minutes in the final movement. (The Zinman has to be on two CDs, because it is over the limit by a minute or two, while Boulez fits the symphony on one disc.)

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.


jfl said...

SACDs cannot store quite as many minutes of music (at that higher quality) as a Red Book CD. (Somewhere in the low to mid-70s vs. 82 minutes (if you squeeze) on a regular CD.

Abbado's 5th, for example, comes on one CD in the Red Book version, but has to be split onto two CDs for the SACD hybrid.

Charles T. Downey said...

Of course, that explains it. Thanks, Jens!