Big improvement for Haitink/CSO in Mahler. Cogent reading; g
B. Guerrero | 11/20/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'm reviewing an sacd/cd hybrid copy, played back on a regular cd player. Therefore, I was hearing this in DSD. I don't know if the regular "redbook" version is also in DSD (sometimes they are, sometimes not). For the most part, the sound is quite good. Coming from "live" sources, the sound is sometimes a tad close-up and bright. But there also seems to be more "stage presence" and, "air around the instruments", than I remember hearing in previous installments. More important, the CSO woodwinds don't sound buried behind the strings and brass, as they often times have previously.
Regarding Hatink: whatever bottle of vitamins they have him on these days, keep it up! This, and the last release of his in the ongoing CSO Resound series, the Poulenc "Gloria"/Ravel "Daphnis" CD, have been more or less up-to-tempo, and display a far higher level of energy than previous releases have. This is a very cogent reading with timings that are within the norm. Bravo! - keep it up.
regarding me: I've been accused by a good friend of "grade inflation - I've been handing out four and five star reviews far too readily. I think she has a point. In hindsight, I wish I hadn't granted five stars to the recent Eschenbach/Philadelphia Mahler 2 on Ondine (four stars would have been more accurate). In most respects, this one is better. But there are things that I like more in the Ondine recording, such as the Philadelphia Orchestra itself. Also, the organ in Verizon Hall is much stronger than what we hear in Chicago's Orchestra Hall. But Haitink's reading of Mahler 2 is far less slack than Eschenbach's. In addition, the choral ending blossoms out nicely, thanks to an outstanding contribution from the CSO Chorus, as well as Chicago's much celebrated brass section (the percussion are sometimes another story, but more on that later). That said, if anybody can make a bunch of strange sounding tempo relationships somehow work, it's Eschenbach. He has made his Mahler so personal - so much his own - that he often times convinces others that he's got it right as well. But Haitink proves that there's really little point in going down that path. What Mahler wrote works perfectly fine.
For Haitink, this is his third commercial recording of the Mahler second that I know of. His late '60s Concertgebouw recording was excellent in every regard - a much underrated presentation of the work - and his Berlin one on Philips wasn't bad either (with a stronger organ than here). One can truthfully say that the "Resurrection" symphony is a work that Haitink consistently does well. For the Chicago Symphony, this is also their third commercial release of M2; the others being the Abbado for DG, and Solti's remake on Decca.
The Abbado second has been one of the CSO's most successful Mahler recordings, captured in the more generous acoustics of the Medinah Temple. Strangely enough, DG was never reissued it on to their remastered "Originals" series, and so it sits out-of-print these days. Fortunately, this one will fill its shoes quite nicely.
The first movement finds Haitink in a surprisingly fast mood, clocking in well less than 22 minutes. Yet, he makes a huge slow-down for the grinding dissonance that is the very heart of this movement's climactic passage. Good stuff! However, as is often times the case, the CSO percussion department sometimes have a tough time keeping up with the noise that the closely positioned brass section regularly pumps out. For example, the solo high/low tam-tam smashes (tam-tam is orchestral nomenclature for large gong) - located just before the slow build-up to the movement's climactic passage - are rather underwhelming, as are the two big percussion crescendos in the finale (just before the fast march section). But these are small gripes for certain, easily remedied by turning the volume way up. Just be sure to duck for those brass players!
Unlike previous Mahler releases from Haitink/CSO, the inner movements are quite good, and don't dilly-dally along the way either. The second movement flows along nicely, yet has the requisite charm needed. The third movement also flows nicely, but at a basic tempo that isn't too fast either - it's far closer to the tempo of the song that was Mahler's original inspiration, "St. Anthony's Sermon To The Fishes". More important, the Chicago woodwinds do a far better job than they often times do (boy, do they ever let-down in Haitink's CSO Mahler 3!). That's important because they're the ones who, with their sudden crescendos and decrescendos, lend a slight air of cynicism and irony to St. Anthony's lecture, as well as the indifferent response to it from those fishes. The point here is that it's supposed to be lighthearted and somewhat funny.
I very much like Christianne Stotijn in "Urlicht", but I like her even better in the finale's more dramatic moments. As already pointed in the other review, she does have a strong wobble in her voice. But boy, can can she ever phrase. She also possesses a sort of "earth mother" quality to her voice - almost Contralto like. Soprano Miah Persson appears to be a bit of a light-weight as a match for Stotijn, but that's a very minor grumble as well (she's excellent in the Ivan Fischer Mahler 4 on Channel Classics, by the way - don't miss her!). On top of these vocal contributions, the CSO chorus do an outstanding job in the closing pages of the score. Again, close-up positioning probably contributes in making this impression. But clearly, everybody was "up" for this event.
Needless to say, the CSO brass section have a field day with the long march sections in the middle third portion of the finale. And yes, they're outstanding. However, it's also here that Haitink makes his biggest miscalculation. At the passage where the offstage trumpets and percussion play their fast notes from afar, they're perfectly audible at first. But as the rest of the orchestra joins in later (including the onstage brass), the offstage brass suddenly become inaudible. This is exactly the opposite of what you want: the offstage brass should sound quite distant at first, but then move in closer with each statement that they make. When the rest of the orchestra joins in, they should sound as though they're almost back on stage. Check out the much underrated Blomstedt/S.F.S.O. Mahler 2 if you want to hear how this critical passage can - and should - go! Still, Haitink is not by any means alone in missing this important detail. As for the percussion department, the high and low pitched gongs are quite audible at the end of the symphony, but where are the "tiefe glocken"? (deep bells, usually just played on tubular chimes).
As usual, I've ended with a gripe. But these gripes are also just details along the way. Naturally, I would like for them to be better. But the main point is this: this is spirited performance, well recorded, that shows a marked improvement for Haitink and his Chicago based musicians in Mahler - a composer for whom they should ALWAYS be hitting the ball out of the park for. Perhaps it's just that the "Resurrection" is the one Mahler symphony that best plays into the hands of Haitink, the Chicago Symphony, and the sort of wide-stage recordings regularly produced by James Mallinson.
A very intelligent Mahler 2nd
Tony L. Engleton CNMT | COLVILLE, WA USA | 03/01/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have been a Chicago Symphony fan for nearly 40 years, having grown up on the South Side and attending my 1st CSO concert in 1972. When I heard the news of Daniel Barenboim's impending retirement from this orchestra, I started a classical music novena. "Please, dear God, give us Bernard Haitink, Amen." Well, it worked , somewhat. We got him for 4 years, not as Music Director, but as principal conductor. Thank you, God.
Haitink brought his vast experience and impecable intellect to the Windy City and dove right into sacd recordings. We've gotten some Bruckner , some Poulenc and MAYBE, ANOTHER NOVENA, a Mahler cycle??? The Resurrection has always been one of my favorite works, it is deeply personal and even predates my CSO attendences. I learned it 40 years ago and bought this sacd version last month along with my first sacd player, a fine unit from Sony and Crutchfield. I played the complete work for myself and my wife, having shut off the furnace and the phones. When we got to the final movement, the bass drum and the deep voices of the CSO Chorus produced a few tears in my wife's eyes. She said she felt as we were back in Orchestra Hall, again. We've lived in Washington state and California since 1990. (Just wait, I told her, till I get my subwoofer!)
The opening Allegro Maestoso is filled with intelligent control and perfect tympanic emphasis. The pace seems more moderato, as I've always thought it should be. The second movement andante moderato also has very good pacing, with a much above average Landler section. The Scherzo is taken leisurely and at about 8:18, we are struck with a downright scary tutti that serves as a precurser of the final movement. Part 4 is Mahler's song, "Urlicht", from Des KNaben Wunderhorn and features the fine mezzo voice of Christianne Statijn, whom maestro Haitink has worked with in the recent past. This heart-felt and beautiful melody is one of Mahler's most poignant creations, and the orchestral accompaniment is loving and comforting. The 5th movement has a trully shattering start and the off stage/on stage brass dialog provides a peerless contrast.
The string tremelo support for the English Horn and trombone could be a bit louder, but some conductors lose control of the drama and allow the strings way too much latitude. It has seemed to me that when Mahler seems stuck at composition, he turns to the march. Any one care to comment? The 5th movement march is one of his best, with thundering percussion and a lead trumpet that emerges so naturally.
The on stage/off stage brass conversation is very eerie, with a simply lovely on stage flute solo. Now for the chorus. Haitink's direction of the choral/orchestral finale is so singular, it almost plays like a seperate symphonic poem. We remember just how perfect the control and intonation of this chorus can be, from our many hearings under the batons of Solti, Giulini and others, but I was still quite moved by the heavenly beauty of a huge mixed choir doing what seems imposible. The 200 voices of the symphony chorus have, perhaps, never souned better. One could always speculate that this magical control is only engeneering, but I don't think so. I've heard these feats live. Take my word for it. For the first time, I heard the low string support at "ruh of meil staub...." Also, there is a remarkable sweetness at the end of "uns ein die starben.." The contribution of the harp and violins is indescribable. As the intensity and pace picks up, at "O glaube.." there is again dramatic yet perfectly framed string tremelo support as the mezzo, then the soprano plead for graces from God. The mood improves quickly as the men announce the good news of "Bereite dich zu leben." And, they do so WITHOUT that big sometimes almost weazy gulp of air that's impossible to overlook. The choral voices split up wonderfully as the orchestra and later the organ underpin to singers.
Haitink raises us up and sets us down ever so gently and magestically in the lap of salvation. There is no punch, no bang and NO showy flash. Haitink's gifts are many. Just the right length of pause between each idea. He teaches us that this is no episodic work, but great art as one huge concise statement. This is probably the tamest Resurrection in my library, but also the most appropriate. If there is such a thing as a definative recording, it is this one. The sonics are wonderful, the balance is beyond excellent and the price is not exorbidant. Regardless how many Resurrections you own, this one deserves a place on your shelf.
The concerts for this recording are from late November in 2008. How I wish I could have been there! But, with the masterful efforts of the folks at CSO Resound, I am!
As an after thought, Mahler played through his 1st movement, originally titled "Todtenfeier" for conductor Hans von Bulow, on the piano, and the maestro commented "if this be music, then I know nothing of music." Ironically, it was at Bulow's funeral that Mahler first heard the Klopstock ode "Aufersteh'n" and realized that his long quest for a suitable conclusion to the symphony was choral in nature. I wonder what Bulow thought as he passed over to the lap of salvation."