Boulez Conducts Mahler #2

Gustav Mahler: Symphony # 2 (Resurrection), performed by:

Pierre Boulez, conducting the Staadtskappele Berlin Orchestra; And soloists, Petra Lang, Contralto, and Soprano Diana Damrau.

I heard Mahler’s Second Symphony for the first time while I was in London for a vacation many years ago. I still recall the emotional effects that this event had on my musical being. I suspect that my becoming so interested in Mahler’s life, childhood, background, compositions, marriage, professional life, as well as his experiences in the US all began that day. This symphony simply had a gripping and thrilling effect on me, and I still react in a similar manner every time I hear it, as long as it is performed by experts in Mahler’s music.

Mahler composed this masterpiece in 1888, but he was not satisfied with it, because he felt that it needed a choral last movement (as in Beethoven’s 9th). Years later he met the important conductor Hans von Bülow, and his death in 1894 greatly affected Mahler. At the funeral, Mahler heard a setting of Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock‘s Die Auferstehung (The Resurrection). “It struck me like lightning, this thing,” he wrote to conductor Anton Seidl, “and everything was revealed to me clear and plain.” Thus emerged the final movement of Mahler’s second symphony.

This DVD commemorates Boulez’s 80th birthday; Boulez is an experienced conductor not given to excessive arm movements. One can see the results of his strong leadership at rehearsals in what is achieved in this performance: Total sound balance, confidence by the players and singers, wonderful clarity of orchestra sound, and outstanding musical excellence on the part of the choir and soloists.

Ms. Diana Damrau achieves dramatically effective results in her performance. And the soprano soloist’s voice emerges above the choral music in the last movement, rising easily for all to hear. The chorus is that of the Berlin State Orchestra and they are outstanding, beautifully balanced, and totally moving in the ‘Auferstehen’ <Arise> of the last movement.

The final moments of the symphony are always an event to remember, and Boulez and his team make this ending as moving as I have ever heard.

There are many recordings of this masterpiece, composed so early in Mahler’s short life. Bernstein’s recording with the Vienna Philharmonic, and Bernard Haitink’s recording with the Berlin Philharmonic are two top examples. To purchase this Boulez recording, click on:

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