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Classical CD review

Benjamin Zander

MAHLER: Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection”

Benjamin Zander, Philharmonia Orchestra

(Linn Records, 3 CDs)

With the announcement, in 2009, that Telarc Records would no longer produce its own recordings, it seemed all too possible that Benjamin Zander would never finish his Mahler symphony cycle with the Philharmonia Orchestra of London. So it’s good to see their performance of Symphony No. 2, the “Resurrection,” recorded last year and now out on Glasgow-based Linn Records, which has already in its catalog CDs of Martin Pearlman and Boston Baroque in Haydn’s “The Creation” and “Lord Nelson” Mass. We can hope — and expect — that Zander will be able to complete his cycle with the Seventh and Eighth.

There’s more good news: This release includes the usual Zander discussion disc, in which he goes well beyond what you normally find in liner notes to explicate the music. Of special note here is the background of Mahler’s relationship with the great conductor Hans von Bülow, Zander’s notion of rubato in the second-movement ländler, and his helpful interpretation of the sprawling last movement as a series of panels in a fresco.

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The performance itself is expansive, running just over 90 minutes. It’s scrupulous; if you follow along with a score, you can observe how carefully Zander has adhered to Mahler’s markings, including his glissandos and portamentos. It’s tender and reverent, and full of detail. Some will want greater agony and anguish, greater contrast within each movement, more cogent shaping of phrases, and a firmer overall arc. Linn’s recording is also a bit problematic; the brass, particularly the trumpets, sound recessed, and the ruthe (a kind of drum beater) is barely audible. Soprano Miah Persson and mezzo Sarah Connolly, on the other hand, are excellent, and Zander rises to the challenge of the closing pages. I suspect this Second will reward repeated listenings, but it should be supplemented by a more muscular interpretation like Otto Klemperer’s with the same orchestra or William Steinberg’s with the BSO.

Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at jeffreymgantz@gmail.com.
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