Symphony No.2 (Resurrection)
Adriana Kucerova (soprano) & Christianne Stotijn (mezzo soprano)
London Philharmonic Choir
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 25 September, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
In the space of a lifetime Mahler performances have gone from welcome rarities to being omnipresent in our concert programming. Since the Royal Festival Hall was full to capacity it is clearly good business. Yet by comparison with earlier decades when his symphonies were comparatively rarely performed, it is remarkable how few conductors working today – even fine ones like Vladimir Jurowski – have any real affinity for Mahler’s music. Asked why he had climbed Everest, a mountaineer replied, “because it’s there”. It is a bit like that with Mahler.
Of course any performance of the ‘Resurrection’ Symphony cannot fail to make an impact, but this one was a real curate’s egg, good in some parts but unsatisfactory in others. It was as though Jurowski had set out to de-construct – or more accurately – to dissect the score. Details – even subsidiary details – were eagerly seized upon and highlighted, but the larger picture consistently eluded him; in the end one was left with the sense of having listened to a series of unconnected moments, the aural equivalent of being exposed to a sequence of slides in quick motion.
The work opened promisingly enough with plenty of heft – with 12 double basses it could hardly have been otherwise – but doubts soon began to surface. The first major climax occurs after some 40 bars; this was certainly loud enough but it lacked genuine weight. Further doubts arose with the ‘idyllic’ second theme for strings which is very precisely annotated with crescendo/decrescendo markings, frequently on a single note, yet what we got was a kind of generalised all-purpose expressiveness. As the movement progressed there were also some curious tempo miscalculations – for instance when Mahler marks Beruhigend he presumably did not intend the music to come to a near standstill, nor rather later on when he indicates a gradual resumption of the main tempo can he have envisaged the point of departure having been from near stasis.
After a protracted pause whilst the Choir filed in, the two middle movements – which pose fewer interpretative problems – came off altogether better, the second movement Ländler having a gentle grace (albeit at a very slow tempo) with its arching cello line elegantly understated, whilst in the third which makes use of the ‘Wunderhorn’ song about St Anthony’s of Padua’s futile sermon to the fishes, the fishes swam energetically; once again though there were some strange tempo miscalculations, Jurowski jumping the gun at the first of the two big outbursts towards the movement’s close with a different faster tempo some eight bars before Mahler’s request for a gradual accelerando.
Christianne Stotijn’s sensitive singing certainly impressed in ‘Urlicht’ – she has that genuine mezzo quality so essential in this movement – and in Ian Hardwick she was backed up by an equally sensitive oboist. Here at last we began to approach the heart of the matter.
The apocalyptic opening of the finale was appropriately seismic, Jurowski’s undoubted theatrical gifts here given full rein, and as the movement progressed there were some impressive solo contributions, notably from the first flute and particularly from Mark Templeton, the first trombone, who displayed an unusual degree of subtlety; otherwise too much was frenetic. The Slovak soprano Adriana Kucerova made an agreeable impression in the final paragraph and blended well with Stotijn. Most memorable of all was the London Philharmonic Choir’s superb singing, from memory, of Klopstock’s Ode. For the rest, this was much less than the whole story.