Gustav Mahler, Christoph Eschenbach, Yvonne Naef Mahler: Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection" Genre:Classical One of the great conductors of our time, Christoph Eschenbach has a particularly close connection to the spiritually charged healing qualities of Gustav Mahler's music. His recording of the Sixth Symphony, with The Philade... more »lphia Orchestra, was hailed by Gramophone as "maybe the Sixth of first choice, sonically and interpretatively." This new release features the Second Symphony (`Resurrection'), which was one of Mahler's most popular and successful works during his lifetime. The famous use of a chorus as the centerpiece of the Finale has often invited comparison with Beethoven's Symphony No. 9. The celestial Urlicht song of the fourth movement is performed by the celebrated mezzo-soprano Yvonne Naef. This is the eighth CD to be released under the "formidable Ondine-Eschenbach-Philadelphia partnership" (Gramophone) which began in 2005, and has produced discs that have been honored with accolades including BBC Music Magazine's Disc of the Month, Gramophone's "Editor's Choice," and The New York Times' "Top Ten Recordings of the Year."« less
One of the great conductors of our time, Christoph Eschenbach has a particularly close connection to the spiritually charged healing qualities of Gustav Mahler's music. His recording of the Sixth Symphony, with The Philadelphia Orchestra, was hailed by Gramophone as "maybe the Sixth of first choice, sonically and interpretatively." This new release features the Second Symphony (`Resurrection'), which was one of Mahler's most popular and successful works during his lifetime. The famous use of a chorus as the centerpiece of the Finale has often invited comparison with Beethoven's Symphony No. 9. The celestial Urlicht song of the fourth movement is performed by the celebrated mezzo-soprano Yvonne Naef. This is the eighth CD to be released under the "formidable Ondine-Eschenbach-Philadelphia partnership" (Gramophone) which began in 2005, and has produced discs that have been honored with accolades including BBC Music Magazine's Disc of the Month, Gramophone's "Editor's Choice," and The New York Times' "Top Ten Recordings of the Year."
Big bone, red blooded American performance
B. Guerrero | 01/29/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'm not sure what there is to fuss about here, as "Philly's" playing is utterly fantastic. I also don't think of Eschenbach as being a conductor who lacks imagination. If anything, this performance is a bit on the expansive side (the finale is over 37 minutes!). Yet, to my ears, the tension never seems to sag. The first movement climax (with its grindingly dissonant build-up) is oppressively imposing - as it should be - while the balances between the chorus and pipe organ at "aufverstehen" are perfectly gauged. More to the point, Mahler's choral writing sounds better - and makes more sense - when riding on a cushion of big, fat organ chords (with hefty bass pedals to boot). Combined with a reasonably good clarification of Mahler's elaborate polyphony for his percussion in the final bars - alternating salvos between the high and low gongs, and a set of deep bells - and you end up with one of the better endings in the M2 discography. I only have two complaints, and they're both quite minor: Yvonne Naef is not quite in the same class as Anna Larsson or Birgirt Remmert (my favorite among current Mahler mezzos), while the final chord of the symphony could use more of a crescendo from the second timpanist (unwisely, Mahler wrote the crescendo only in the second timpani part - it's often underplayed). I'm also not wild about applause being left in, but who cares? (Then again, when does Mahler's "Resurrction" symphony NOT receive a wildly enthusiastic response?)
While my fist overall recommendation for the Mahler 2nd remains the recent Ivan Fischer/Budapest Festival Orch. one on Channel Classics (sound quality being a major factor as well), this new Eschenbach/Philly one will please anybody wanting a big sounding, red blooded American performance of the work. Philadelphia's new Verizon Hall is tailor made for the part, regardless of what tensions there may or may not have been between Eschenbach and the orchestra members. It's best to forget all that political nonsense and enjoy Mahler at his most outrageous, "what the heck was that!?!" best. I know I did - this is a keeper for me."
Not an SACD!
Matthew Silverstein | Chicago, IL | 02/28/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Despite Amazon's listing, this entry in the Eschenbach/Philadelphia Orchestra series is just a standard CD, *not* an SACD."
Mahler should't be this correct -- more passion, please
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 01/28/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The Philadelphia Orch. has been having a rocky rebirth over the past few years. It got a new hall, a new conductor, and a new record deal with Finnish label Ondine. Things frayed around the edges with the Verizon Center, due to faulty acoustics, and with Christoph Eschenbach, who clashed with the orchestra and was sent packing before his contract was up (Chalres Dutoit will fill in for now).
Knowing all this, I was curious about the third leg, the new recordings, which have received consistently good reviews. Let me state my bias up front. From concerts attended in the past few years, I am on the orchestra's side in their disputes with Eschenbach: his conducting seemed coarse and generalized, with little inspiration in the standard repertoire, and notably out-of-sorts playing from the musicians. The falling off after Sawallisch's tenure was immediate to the ear. For me, deeply unhappy musicians have a primary right to ask for a conductor's dismissal, even though local and New York critics banded to decry Eschenbach's fate.
Now on to the Mahler Second: The first movement sets the tone of a brisk, literal, under-expressed performance. The recorded sound is perfeclty fine, but unnfortunately it permits us to hear solo woodwinds and brass who sound routine and uninspired. Ensemble is precise, but Eschenbach favors clipped, terse phrasing, which to my ears is the very opposite of what Mahler wants--expansive, emotionally expressive phrasing. The line is allowed to go slack in softer passages. The overall feeling is neither jubilant, tragic, nor even very involved.
Mahler's music doesn't have to be as cosmic as Bernstein makes it, but there's a limit to how light you can be. The second movement minuet is refined, but it's also foursquare in Eschenbach's hands, and rather too correct. In the Scherzo one has a range of possible approaches from the genial and bucolic to the biting and satiric. But Eschenbach bleaches the music into a smooth blandness that is merely pleasant.
For a performance to survive, intensity must enter into "Urlicht," here sung by mezzo Yvonne Neef, who is experienced and expressive. Eschenbach takes a measured tempo, trying to create a hushed, mysterious atmosphere. Thanks to Neef's sincerity, I did find myself being moved. I was also grateful that the conductor had stopped breezily skipping over Mahler's emotional complexity. By remaining deliberate in the next movement, however, Eschenbach provides no dramatic contrast, and the brass choirs that foreshadow the apocalypse are bland and cautious. Ondine's crystal-clear sonics add an element of much-needed excitement here when brass and percussion finally erupt. If only Eschenbach could rise to the occasion with more than time-beating.
The pacing of the choral entry feels draggy and a bit slack, although the choral singing per se is lovely so far as intonation and purity of tone goes. Soprano Simona Saturova floats ethereally out of the hushed choir, as she should. It's a shame that Eschenbach insists on being devitalized almost to the end. The great "resurrection" climax is clarion but plodding. The live audience seems satisified but not wildly enthusiastic, to judge by their subdued cheers.
At his point the Philadelphia Orch. is an underdog that I am fervently rooting for -- to see them omitted from The Gramophone's Dec. 2008 listing of the world's 20 greatest orchestras was heartbreaking -- and unfair. They were relegated to a sidebar of past glories (meaning the era of 'the Philadelphia Sound' under Stokowski and Ormandy). Whatever troubles Philadelphia may be going through right now, this is still a great orchestra by any measure. I hope they get a chance to shine again as soon as possible.
P.S. - A recent visit to Carnegie Hall found the Philadelphians in magnificent form under simon Rattle. Their execution of Berlioz's Damnation of Faust was thrillingly viruosic and totally committed. Which goes to prove that the underlying quality of the orchestra wasn't permanently damaged by Eschenbach. His leaving was musically justified.
OK, Little More
Virginia Opera Fan | Falls Church, VA USA | 04/17/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Eschenbach and the Philly turn in a decent performance of Mahler's vision of the "Resurrection". He employs some interesting tempo fluctuations in the first movement - to good effect in maintaining the tension of a long movement. The second movement is very graceful and "Viennese" in spirit. The scherzo doesn't make much of an impression one way or the other. The tempo for "Urlicht" is very stately and must have challenged the mezzo's breath control. The finale's slow pace strikes me in initial hearings as too much so.
The sound stage is very wide and the antiphonal seating of the violins helps clarify the string lines. However, I'm concerned that Ondine appears to have abandoned the SACD format for this issue. (Particularly given the technicians include Jean-Marie Geijsen of Polyhymnia/Pentatone.) Surround sound isn't particularly missed, but the string tone of the Philadelphians is shown to better advantage in the higher sampling rate and 24 bit word length of SACD. This standard CD sounds a little harsh in comparison to SACD issues in the series.
In all, this issue doesn't fill any compelling need. The music is better served by Tilson Thomas (SFO Media), Klemperer (EMI), and Bernstein (CBS), and Walter (CBS) to name only four alternatives."
THREEWIRE | Collegeville, PA USA | 12/02/2009
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I attended one of the live performances used in this recording. I had middling expectations for the subsequent release of this recording. They were met. First I should say the Ondine's engineers did a pretty fair job of capturing the sound of the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. That is not necessarily a good thing. Granted that hall is a vast improvement over the Academy of Music (talk about damning with faint praise), but it is still far to dead a venue for big orchestral performances. That said, given that there were no long, lush reverb tails for the engineers to contend with (like, say, the Concertgebouw), the level of detail in the orchestra captured on these disks is disappointing. The finale is veiled and occasionally even muddy. The engineers did extract the organ pedal notes from the finale, which were sadly missing in action where we were seated for the actually performance. (Quick tip if you attend a concert at Kimmel: the second tier has much better bass!) Having heard the actual sound of the orchestra in the hall prior to hearing the recording, I greatly respect the difficult job the engineers were handed. They did about as well as can be expected. Creditable, but worth your hard-earned cash? Well, had the performance been extraordinary, perhaps.
Alas, such is not the case. The whole affair just never seems to gain sufficient escape velocity to truly ascend heavenward and Eschenbach's baton is the most culpable for this failing. His infamously "elastic" tempos often are distracting and rob the performance of momentum. Far from having the sense of occasion and spontaneity one expects from a live performance, the reading here comes off diffident and inconsistent. It is hard not to be moved by a performance of Mahler's 2nd, and yet, in the venue during the performance and then at home with the recording, I was decidedly unmoved. The playing is fine. The solo singing is uneven, but not debilitatingly so. The choral performance is wonderful and in many ways is the highlight of the performance, but it does not save it all from mediocrity. Indifference is not the kind of reaction I expect from a reading of Mahler's 2nd.
As for the the recording not being released as an SACD; that alone is the least reason to decline to own this disk. I'd imagine DSD might have aided the presentation somewhat -- the recording certainly could do with more "air" and separation; two characteristics a higher bitrate often imparts to a recording -- but all those bits are still at the mercy of the sound that wafted into those microphones. The etched, often muddled soundstage presented by this disk sounds to me to be beyond the aid of greater resolution.
The catalogue of recorded performances of Mahler's 2nd is both broad and deep. In a competitive field, this performance does not stand apart, neither for good nor bad reasons. It simply is. To paraphrase the old saying; there are countless recordings of Mahler's vast Second Symphony and this performance by the Philadelphia Orchestra and Christoph Eschenbach is truly one of them. Try Simon Rattle's CBSO recording on EMI. It tempers the unbridled emotionalism of Bernstein with the precision and coherence of Boulez or Haitink. Mahler: Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection"; Rattle, Auger, Baker"