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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (I am lost to the world) (1901) (arr. Clytus Gottwald for 64 unaccompanied voices) [6:38]
Symphony No. 2 Resurrection (1888/94, rev. 1905) [86:20]
Anja Harteros (soprano), Bernarda Fink (mezzo),
Bavarian Radio Symphony Chorus/Michael Gläser
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Mariss Jansons
rec. live 13, 15 May 2011, Philharmonie, Gasteig, Munich, Germany
Sound Format: PCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.0
Picture Format: 16:9, Region Code: 0, DVD 9 NTSC
Subtitles: DE (Original language), GB, FR, ES, IT, Korean
ARTHAUS MUSIK 101 685 [96:00]

This concert was quite an event on the international stage, resulting in a line of people queuing for returned tickets at this pair of ‘sold out’ Munich concerts. The DVD was made at those two concerts. You can tell that the DVD is a mix as I was in the Philharmonie audience for the 13th May concert and can identify myself in the front row behind Mariss Jansons. Throughout, the video director has done a superb job providing just enough variety and not disturbing the enjoyment by allowing the cameras latitude to flick around too much. The picture clarity, sound quality and overall production has resulted in a highly desirable Mahler DVD.
 
There is a rather unusual start to this wonderful concert with a performance of Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, one of Mahler’s cycle of five songs based on poems by Friedrich Rückert. Mahler once said of this particular song “It is truly me”. Here is an arrangement of it for sixteen unaccompanied voices prepared by Clytus Gottwald (b. 1925). It was premièred in 1984. Lasting just over six and a half minutes it is performed by thirty-two men and thirty-two women - members of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Chorus. It is directed sensitively with confidence by their chorus-master Michael Gläser. A true masterwork and my favourite Mahler song, I love the gentle rocking motion of the writing with its exciting excursions into stormier waters. With impressive unity of execution the excellent Bavarian choir produce a heavenly sound culminating in a wonderful cadence. 

Mahler laboured long and hard from 1888 to 1894 on his Symphony No. 2 and made a revision in 1905. At the time of writing Mahler was still establishing a name for himself as a conductor and normally composing in his spare time; mainly during his summer vacations. Known universally as theResurrection this substantial work lasts around eighty-six minutes. Trust and empathy between an orchestra and conductor often takes time to develop, if it develops at all, but here the strength of the relationship is clearly evident. Straightaway in the opening movement I was struck by the assurance and sheer power of this cultivated orchestra. I remember at the opening of the actual concert feeling that the sheer force of the sound was pushing me back into my seat. I can still strongly sense this feeling in this recording. Jansons expertly obtains a satisfying contrast of grey solemn expression from the movement’s predominant funereal character with its exhilarating heroic qualities. Throughout the movement the playing of the Bavarian players is of an elevated quality and feels intensely satisfying. Mahler wanted to accentuate the difference between the first and second movements requesting a short pause which maestro Jansons observes.
 
Marked Andante moderato the exquisitely scored second movement is relatively light and good-natured. In Jansons’ hands the waltz-like opening feels as if it has come from a mid-nineteenth century Viennese dance hall. Such elegance with abundant fine detail is brought out of the writing. Providing a stark antithesis is a near mocking episode of unsettling agitation and vigour. It is fascinating to see, as well as hear, the guitar-like strumming of the violins and violas and the pizzicato section from the cellos is a delight also. Two robust timpani strokes that sound like gunshots announce the opening of the Scherzo. The writing draws on the captivating melody from Mahler’s Wunderhorn song Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt (St. Anthony's  Sermon to the Fishes). Reminiscent of a klezmer band the schmoozing clarinet solo seems a characteristic Mahler reference to Jewish folk music. The potency of the energy released in Mahler’s terrible scream of anguish is striking and puts a brisk stop to the bucolic frolicking. Urlicht (Primeval Light) from one of Mahler’s own Wunderhorn songs is the title of the fourth movement. A major highlight is the glorious entrance of mezzo-soprano Bernarda Fink in the meditative O Röschen rot! (O Red Rose!) declaring her yearning for respite from world weariness. In excellent vocal condition Fink sounds in total control displaying attractive timbre and supple projection. Following on closely is the rather brief and spiritually affecting chorale intoned so splendidly on the brass. 

The finale opens with that tremendously weighty and terrifying scream of anguish which then decays into mere dust. The off-stage brass seem barely audible and I am not entirely convinced by their entry. Confidently led by the biting brass and percussion battery more shattering climaxes follow close behind. There is a distinct martial quality to the brass fanfares interrupted only by tetchy woodwind and angry percussion. Off-stage brass linger in a lament interspersed with birdsong on the flute and piccolo. The large mixed chorus enter with the words Auferstehn, ja aufersteh'n wirst du (Rise again, yes rise again you will). This is mellow and tender and makes a quite spellbinding impact. The text O glaube, mein Herz (O believe, my heart) is sung by the soprano Anja Harteros to magical effect. Her captivating tone feels satisfyingly smooth and secure. Both Harteros and Fink combine with the chorus in the words O Schmerz! Du Alldurchdringer! (O suffering! All pervading). With singing of such extraordinary quality from the impeccably matched soloists and chorus it feels so spiritual. One can perhaps be excused for thinking that they have been transported to paradise. The final section begins with the familiar Viennese string sound soon taken up by massed forces including organ and percussion battery. In the earth-shattering climax Jansons holds things together so wonderfully.
 
On a distressing note, part-way through the symphony given on Friday 13th an audience member next but one to me in the front row collapsed and lay on the floor for some time whilst receiving attention from a doctor in the audience and paramedics before being carried away. I would think that only a very small number of the orchestra and choir were conscious of the distressing situation that was unravelling so close to them. Certainly Mariss Jansons would have been unaware and he was only a couple of metres way with his back to the incident. Some of this activity can be seen but this should not detract from enjoyment of the DVD.
 
The voices of Anja Harteros and Bernarda Fink together with the magnificent playing and singing of the Bavarian orchestra and chorus under Mariss Jansons is remarkable right from climaxes of sonic proportions to the high strings playing the softest pianissimo. Under their chief conductor I couldn’t currently name a finer orchestra. Bravo!
 
Michael Cookson
 
Masterwork Index: Mahler 2 ~~ Rückert lieder

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