Gustav Mahler’s epic Symphony No. 2 ‘Resurrection’ with Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker, the Rundfunkchor Berlin and star soloists Kate Royal and Magdalena Kožená was recorded in concert at Berlin’s Philharmonie in late October 2010. The Symphony, scored for orchestra, soloists and chorus, tackles the great mysteries of life and death and was already among the most successful and popular of Mahler’s symphonies during his lifetime. Not only was the work premiered by the Berliner Philharmoniker (in 1895) but it is an important work in Simon Rattle’s musical trajectory. The partnership of Sir Simon and the BPO in Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 portends a ground-breaking new recording.
When at last it was revealed what Mahler’s final intentions were regarding the ordering of the inner movements of his 6th Symphony, 90 years of theory, history, & performance practice went right out the window. For theorists, it altered the harmonic structure of Mahler’s A minor Symphony. For historians, it modified the meaning of Mahler’s “Tragic” Symphony. For players & conductors, it changed the musical progress of Mahler’s 6th Symphony. For listeners, it made Mahler’s deepest & darkest symphony even deeper & darker. With the achingly nostalgic Andante moderato now coming before the bitingly bitter Scherzo, the triumph of the opening Allegro energico sounds even more hollow & empty & the collapse of the closing Allegro moderato sounds even more final & total.
Rafael Kubelik was one of our foremost interpreters of Dvorak and other great Czech composers such as Smetana and Janacek. His critically acclaimed 1960's Dvorak symphony Deutsche Grammophon cycle was reissued several years ago as a budget-priced collection.
This was one of the first digital version (the very first?) of Tchaikovsky's violin concerto and remains pretty competitive though perhaps not a first choice. Kremer's playing is surely polished and technically impressive; the phrasing is wonderful and the tone beautiful. Still, it is unfortunately a little short on charm and expressive depth - Tchaikovsky's concerto isn't really the most appropriate vehicle neither for classical restraint nor almost curmudgeonly introspective approaches; it is peripatetic grand drama and passion and heart-on-sleeve through and through and despite Kremer's sweetness of tone he never manages to scale the heights or plunge the emotional abysses of the music.
These performances come from the first ever complete set of the Mozart symphonies, dating from the 1960s, and they still represent 'big orchestra' Mozart at its most congenial. The contrast here between Bohm's sparkling Mozart, both elegant and vigorous, and the much smoother view taken by Karajan with the same orchestra, works almost entirely in Bohm's favour. Interpretatively, these are performances very much of their time, with exposition repeats the exception (as in the first movement of No. 40) and with Minuets taken at what now seem lumbering speeds. Yet slow movements flow easily, and finales bounce along infectiously. Consistently they convey the happy ease of Bohm in Mozart, even if the recording is beefy by today's standards, not as transparent as one now expects in this repertory, whether on modern or period instruments.
For Simon Rattle, Jean Sibelius is “one of the most staggeringly original composers that there is”. And indeed, this music has a unique musical language whose many beauties are particularly succinctly conveyed in Sibelius’s seven symphonies. There is sonorous warmth as much as there is austere Nordic folklore. Moreover, there is a conceptual boldness that takes the listener on exciting musical journeys of discovery. In 2015, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Sibelius’s birth, Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker presented the cycle live, which was met with unanimous delight by audiences and critics alike. “The Philharmoniker show that with them and Simon Rattle, Sibelius is in excellent hands,” wrote the Berliner Zeitung, “because the orchestra has that astringency and sheer power which is so important for this kind of music.”