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Mahler: Symphonies 2 & 10 (Adagio) - Gergiev

Mahler: Symphonies 2 & 10 (Adagio) - Gergiev

LSO Live  LSO0666 (2 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Mahler: Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection", Symphony No. 10 (Adagio)

Elena Mosuc (soprano)
Zlata Bulycheva (mezzo-soprano)
London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus
Valery Gergiev (conductor)


Mahler’s extraordinary Second Symphony deals with the epic themes of life, death, faith, and love. He employs a vast orchestra in a search for salvation through spirituality, including a battery of brass, two soloists, and choir. The theme of death also pervades his unfinished Tenth, yet here one finds a sense of peace and a heartfelt expression of human love.

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Review by Graham Williams - January 14, 2009

In an interview given before a BBC Television relay of this performance of Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony in April 2008, Valery Gergiev said “Conductors can do a lot to damage this symphony” and this is something that he has successfully ensured never happens in his powerful interpretation of the work recorded here. In general it is a quite straightforward account of the work, though certainly not lacking in character or devoid of the unmistakeable stamp of the conductor’s personality.

Any performance of this symphony has to be a powerful experience for the listener, and here the drama of the ‘Allegro maestoso’ (21’50”), that occupies the whole of the first disc, is fully realised by the wide contrast Gergiev achieves between the tender reflective passages and the cataclysmic power he unleashes throughout the pervasive grim march. ‘Totenfeier’ (Funeral Rites), Mahler’s title for his original conception of this music, seems particularly apt in this account. At the opening, one’s ear is drawn to the precise articulation of the bases and cellos and even more to their continuing underlying growling pulse for the first few minutes of the movement. Gergiev captures the unease and darkness of this movement with an unerring sense of theatre.

The Andante moderato (10’07”) is played simply and gracefully without any affectation (and some may think real affection), but it does provide the much-needed relief after the intensity of the first movement. Gergiev’s tempo for the Scherzo (9’23”) is much faster than Mahler’s markings would suggest, but he is in his element here and gives a fleet account of this ironic movement that comes off, thanks to the amazing responsiveness of the wonderful LSO players. The conductor hardly slows down for the trio section as if impatient to return to the sardonic humour of the earlier music and the gripping build up to Mahler’s ‘cry of disgust’.

The short ‘Urlicht’ (4’39”) movement is somewhat disappointing, as the singing of the mezzo-soprano Zlata Bulycheva is not ideally secure, while her lack of expressiveness and deadpan delivery of the text is compounded by her unidiomatic German. However, her placement behind the orchestra results in a more realistic balance than on many recordings.

The final movement (31’44”) is a tour-de-force. Gergiev controls his players with absolute precision and gives a blazing account of the music leading up to the entry of the chorus. The perspectives of the off-stage bands are well handled throughout and impart the appropriate sense of mystery and stillness. The hushed entry of the LSO Chorus, on top form, is magical and the soprano Elena Mosuc soars radiantly. The overwhelming build up to the final bars is perfectly judged and, for once, the organ can be felt as well as heard.

Whether due to the presence of soloists and large chorus behind the orchestra, an audience-packed Barbican or some other factor, the recording quality on this issue is rather dry and airless. The huge climaxes appear slightly cramped as if the sound was unable to expand sufficiently in the hall. Brass and percussion make a vivid impact but the strings tend to lack allure and warmth.

The Adagio (22’13”) from Symphony No. 10, recorded in June 2008, which completes the disc, is captured in much finer sound. The strings have a radiant glow that is supplemented by the burnished tone of the superb horn section of the LSO. Gergiev’s penchant for forward movement avoids any cloying sentimentality in the music, but his performance is still full of tenderness. It is to be hoped that one day he will record one of the many completions of the whole symphony.

Copyright © 2009 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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Comment by Waveform - January 7, 2016 (1 of 1)

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