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Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Symphony No. 2 in C minor ‘Resurrection’ (1888-1894; new critical edition by Renate Stark-Voit & Gilbert Kaplan)
Annette Dasch (soprano)
Karen Cargill (mezzo)
Netherlands Radio Choir/Klaas Stok
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Daniele Gatti
rec. live, 18 September 2016, Concertgebouw, Amsterdam
Region Code: All. LC-14237
Picture format: 16:9 1080p24
Sound: DD 2.0 (48/16); DTS-HD MA 2.0 (192/24);
Auro-3D 9.0 (96/24); DTS-HD MA 5.0 (96/24)
RCO LIVE RCO17108 Blu-ray [88:25]

Daniele Gatti took up his post at the head of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, succeeding Mariss Jansons, in September 2016. Indeed, though I can’t see specific mention of it in the booklet, this may well have been his first concert in his new role. Given the RCO’s illustrious history as a Mahler orchestra under such luminaries as Mengelberg and Haitink the selection of Mahler’s Second Symphony at the outset of Gatti’s tenure represents both a bold statement of intent and also a brave foray into the orchestra’s heritage. Michel Khalifa is surely in error, though, in claiming in his booklet notes that this is “a brand-new Chief Conductor’s first Mahler recording.” I think I’m right in saying that Gatti recorded both the Fourth and Fifth symphonies during his time with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (1996-2009). Perhaps it’s understandable that RCO Live should overlook those recordings but someone should have remembered that there’s a 2010 Gatti recording of the Fifth on their own label. I’ve not heard any of those recordings but I recall that Dan Morgan was most complimentary about the RCO performance of the Fifth which he described as “earth-shaking” (review). Well, a successful performance of the ‘Resurrection’ should be earth-shaking too, so how does Gatti get on?

I may as well lay my cards on the table straightaway and say that whilst there’s much in this performance to admire it didn’t really have me on the edge of my seat. The first movement, superbly played by the RCO, seems to me to be just marginally undercooked. As I watched and listened I didn’t feel as involved, let alone gripped, as I should be, though others may well hear the music differently. The ‘Resurrection’ is a tremendously theatrical symphony, especially in its first and last movements, and somehow the drama seems underplayed here. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the likes of Abbado, Levine, Mehta, Nott and Rattle, to say nothing of the astonishingly intense Tennstedt performance, but Gatti just doesn’t appear to generate the same tension and level of inspiration that one encounters in those readings.

I warmed much more to the performance in the next two movements. There’s a nice, relaxed flow to the Andante moderato. It’s noticeable here that Gatti frequently smiles, seeming to take pleasure in both the music and in the idiomatic way that his orchestra is playing. There’s a warmth in the music making that is most attractive. Gatti is equally successful in the third movement. Here he ensures that the music is well pointed and inflected by the RCO and Mahler’s sardonic writing is very well served.

I must admit to some ambivalence about Karen Cargill’s rendition of Urlicht. On the one hand she sings most expressively but in her search for expression the tone seems to me to spread somewhat. Gatti launches the huge finale with great drive and before long we hear the offstage horns which sound marvellous as they call from the backstage area of the Concertgebouw. Later, the offstage trumpets and percussion are equally effective: this hall serves Mahler’s spatial effects admirably. In this movement, as elsewhere, I was consistently impressed by the virtuosity and sonority of the RCO. About the interpretation, however, I’m a bit less convinced. Those two huge percussion crescendos midway through the movement are, to borrow Dan Morgan’s phrase, earth-shaking but what follows is less impressive on this occasion. If those apocalyptic drum rolls represent the opening of the graves, as they surely do, then the march that follows is the march of the dead to Judgement. Unfortunately, at Gatti’s too deliberate speed I get no sense of abandon, still less of fear; hereabouts the music has feet of clay. Matters improve once we get to the große Appel. That passage itself is very well judged – the Concertgebouw’s spaces help enormously – and from here to the end Gatti judges and paces the huge musical tableau impressively. The Netherlands Radio Choir, who sing entirely from memory, only numbers about 60 voices, which is a small body for such a work. However, they’re professional singers so there’s no lack of heft when it matters and their soft singing is superbly controlled. From their initial murmurs rises the lovely silvery soprano of Annette Dasch. I like her singing and, indeed, both soloists do well in these closing pages.

The conclusion is suitably grand with the Concertgebouw organ a telling presence. The Amsterdam audience rise to acclaim the performance, which must have been an impressive experience on the night. I must say I like the way that Daniele Gatti ensures that all the other performers take a bow before taking his share of the applause.

James Bond famously liked his martini to be shaken, not stirred. When I hear Mahler’s Second I want to be both shaken and stirred. Despite its virtues this performance doesn’t really achieve that for me: I was left wanting more. As I said earlier, perhaps I’ve been spoiled by other versions in the very competitive market for recordings of this symphony. One other version which I should have mentioned is the performance on this very label by Gatti’s predecessor, Mariss Jansons. That 2009 reading is included in the previously referenced big box set which also contains Gatti’s performance of the Fifth (review). The Jansons performance is also available separately in a package of two SACDs and a DVD (RCO 10102). I think it’s a more consistently compelling experience than the new Gatti version.

Gatti, like Jansons before him, uses a recent (2006) critical edition of the score by Renate Stark-Voit & Gilbert Kaplan. This, apparently, irons out many inaccuracies and points of detail.

In my experience the quality of both sound pictures is usually excellent on this label and that’s the case here.

In summary, this is a performance which has much to commend it but it is not one which challenges the best in a highly competitive field.

John Quinn

Previous review (Download): Dan Morgan


 

 




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