MAHLER Symphony No 2 – Rattle
Comparisons need to be very select for this performance. When the CD appears will be the time to compare the recorded sound-quality with that available from the engineers of the Maazel (CBS), Sinopoli (DG) and Mehta (Decca). Meanwhile the LP can be wholeheartedly recommended for lack of distortion, spaciousness and a virtually silent surface. But where Simon Rattle's interpretation is concerned, we must go into the realm of such giant Mahlerians as Walter (CBS) and Klemperer (Decca), dissimilar as they were. For we are dealing here with conducting akin to genius, with insights and instincts that cannot be measured with any old yardstick.
Reviewing other recent performances of this vast symphonic fresco, I have complained that no studio recording seems to convey the sheer physical thrill of a live performance, that a dimension—that of being present in the hall with the performers—is missing. An exception is Walter's recording, and now there is Rattle's. His sense of drama of apocalyptic events, is so strong that at the final chords one is awed. None of this could have been achieved, of course, without the CBSO, who here emerge as an orchestra of world class. With such supple and rich string-playing, such expressive woodwind and infallibly accurate and mellow-toned brass, could anyone, coming upon this recording unawares, be blamed for identifying these players as belonging to Vienna, Berlin or Chicago?Attention to dynamics is meticulous throughout and contributes immeasurably to the splendour of the performance. A double pianissimo is really that, so when triple forte comes along its impact is tremendous. Some of the outstanding features of the performance can be pinpointed: the marvellously emphatic molto pesante before the return to Tempo I at fig. 20 in the first movement; the haunting beauty of the portamento horn-playing and the strings' sensitive and perfectly graded glissandos at fig. 23—immer noch mehr zuruckhaltend (''still more holding back'') indeed; the magical entry of flute and harps just after fig. 3 in the second movement (and, incidentally, the two harps really sound like two throughout, which is rarer than one might think); the really spring. Bogen viola solo 11 bars after fig. 38 in the scherzo; and the frightening eruption of the two fortissimo drum notes just after fig. 51 in the same movement. Then, in the finale, there are the superb woodwind trills, the sense of mounting terror at fig. 8 and two specially glorious moments: the infinitely moving high chord for the first violins, marked zart (''tender'') eight bars after fig. 37 and, three pages further on, the violas' fulfilment of Mahler's mit leidenschaftenlich Ausdruck (''with passionate expression''). Note, too, after fig. 13 how accurately the first trumpet fades his high D from ff to double pp over three bars.
A curiosity is Rattle's slow and deliberate treatment of the descending staccato passage (usually taken at a rush) at the end of the first movement (Tempo I, but not his Tempo I). His tempo for the second movement is fast, like Klemperer's, and catches the music's charm, and he brilliantly evokes the driving terror at the centre of the scherzo. Dame Janet Baker is at her most tender and innig in ''Urlicht'', with Arleen Auger as the soul of purity in the finale. The CBSO Chorus are magnificent, indeed the whole finale, its off-stage brass and echoes beautifully balanced, is an acoustic triumph. No matter which recording of this great work you already possess, you must have this one too. It is, like Tennstedt's of No. 8, in a spiritual class of its own, a Mahlerian testament.'