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Benjamin Zander - Philharmonia Orchestra - Mahler: Symphony No. 2 - American Record Guide


14 March 2014
American Record Guide
Don O'Connor

Having been extremely impressed by Zander's previous Mahler interpretations, I approached this one with high hopes. To say my hopes were exceeded barely begins to describe his transcendent reading. From the commanding opening gesture you already know there's a master hand on the tiller. His interpretation is excellent both in detail and in sum. For example, the slightly hesitant first note in the opening rising scale theme, blending into an accelerando, sounds just right. It's not in the score, but it's the instinctive touch of a true musician. Zander applies ritards and rubato tempos to propel, rather than interrupt, the music's motion.

From the timing, you might infer it's a slow reading, but mostly his tempos are quite brisk. Much of that timing derives from his skill at directing genuinely pregnant pauses, as Mahler requires. He does unfold the composer's apocalyptic concept in V with a more measured overall pace, so it makes the maximum effect. Anyone not utterly bowled over by the final chorus needs a mirror held under his nose. Every time I hear this sublime symphonic canvas, I'm reminded of how insipid the conventional notions of the afterlife are when compared with Mahler's titanic vision.

The playing of the Philharmonia recalls 'with advantages' their legendary days under Klemperer. Their sensitive handling of II is exemplary, and the power they bring to the finale is awe-inspiring. The soloists and chorus add their fair share to a unique experience. Connolly and Persson sing accurately and with strong expression. Connolly's diction is especially clear.

Linn's recording is absolutely twenty-first-century. Every important detail of a huge, complex score registers. In the finale, when the organ cuts in, be sure your floorboards are securely nailed down. It's not just a matter of volume, but resonance, from the pedal notes up. This one goes on the shelf right alongside the supreme readings of Bernstein, Kaplan, and Solti, to mention only a few of my favorites. Add the recorded sound quality and it advances even beyond them.
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