03a_mahler_symphony_203b_mahler_knabenMahler - Symphony No.2

Kate Royal; Magdalena Kožená; Rundfunkchor; Berliner Philharmoniker; Simon Rattle

EMI 6 47363 2

Mahler - Des Knaben Wunderhorn

Sarah Connolly; Dietrich Henschel; Orchestre des Champs-Élysées; Philippe Herreweghe

Harmonia Mundi HMX 2901920

Mahler’s Second Symphony has a preeminent significance to Simon Rattle; it was the work that inspired him to become a conductor. Rattle’s interpretation of the work has always been refreshingly distinctive, with an organic plasticity that never descends into mere taffy-pulling. He takes some interpretive risks here, milking the impressive dissonance that heralds the recapitulation in the first movement at a very deliberate, stentorian pace while elsewhere revealing an obsession with details that are seldom heard in lesser interpretations. The Berlin musicians play like gods throughout. Rattle’s well-regarded 1987 EMI recording with the Birmingham SO is still revered for the presence of Arleen Auger and Dame Janet Baker as the vocal soloists. Alas, they don’t make voices like that these days; here the singers are Kate Royal and Magdalena Kožená (Sir Simon’s second wife), the latter quickly becoming a ubiquitous presence in several recent high-profile Mahler recordings. The symphony is spread over two discs, with the first movement alone occupying the first of these. The live performance (mercifully without applause or other audience intrusions) is exceptionally well recorded.

Harmonia Mundi has re-issued at a budget price Philippe Herreweghe’s 2006 recording of the orchestral songs from Mahler’s settings of folk poetry from the popular 19th century anthology known in English as The Youth’s Magic Horn. The string section of Philippe Herreweghe’s Champs-Élysées orchestra is a reduced ensemble that performs in the imperturbable, “historically informed” manner, lending an exceptional transparency to the orchestral texture – though it must be said that Mahler himself cared little for interpretive historical precedents. The powerful voice of Dieter Henschel brings a swaggering authority in the military songs while Sarah Conolly’s honey-hued tone provides ample rustic charm to the lighter numbers. While Herreweghe’s precise accompaniment falls a bit short dramatically in comparison to the classic Szell, Bernstein or Abbado performances this unique and admirably recorded disc is nonetheless well worth owning.

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