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Mahler: Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection" [2 CDs]

Mahler: Symphony No. 2 "Resurrection" [2 CDs]

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Mahler 2 is the second album from Philharmonia Records; following their first album - Santtu conducts Strauss. “[Also sprach Zarathustra] Rouvali’s conducting of both is certainly interesting and personal... impressive; an expansive reading that sees the work whole...[An Alpine Symphony] undeniably picturesque; vivid and dramatically playing; and this extravagant score also enjoys notable recorded sound... lingering lyricism; invariably heartfelt and; in conclusion; cathartic”; Founded in 1945; The Philharmonia Orchestra creates thrilling performances for a global audience and has premiered works by Richard Strauss; Sir Peter Maxwell Davies; Errollyn Wallen; Kaija Saariaho and many others. The Philharmonia has an extraordinary 77-year recording legacy; and has recorded around 150 soundtracks; with film credits stretching back to 1947. In the 2021/22 season the Orchestra performs in Romania; Spain; Finland; Greece and Germany.

Santtu-Matias Rouvali is a Finnish conductor and percussionist; and is currently principal conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra. Rouvali continues his relationships with orchestras across Europe; including with the Berlin Philharmonic; New York Philharmonic; Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra; Munich Phillharmonic and the the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France.


In the first movement Rouvali is animated and engaged, using a lighter hand than most other conductors. Such a natural lyrical bent would seem to run counter to music that Mahler originally conceived as a funeral rite (Totenfeier), and it’s certainly unusual for a conductor to have such a relaxed grip on the drama and still make the first movement work.

The point is underscored in the minuet-like second movement, usually a throwaway, which is captivating in Rouvali’s hands, a nostalgic poem. The Scherzo is taken at quite a clip, divorcing the music from the gently satiric song in Des Knaben Wunderhorn about St. Anthony preaching to a school of transfixed fish. Rouvali sharpens the edges and makes the movement rambunctiously exciting—I can’t remember any other conductor leading this music one beat to a bar.

As the soloist in the raptly reverent “Urlicht,” mezzo Jennifer Johnston is sensitive and sincere, but Rouvali leads such an eloquent orchestral part that one wishes he had a singer of the highest caliber. Johnston’s German is more than a shade too basic for the poetry. The thunder and brass that open the fifth movement display excellent balance, bringing forward this conductor’s ability to extract beautiful playing for which the word “burnished” was invented. The many solos and ensemble passages in the final half hour of the “Resurrection” Symphony come off with unforced gorgeousness, needing no shred of rhetoric to make an impact.

Rouvali has held his fire to some extent, making it all the more thrilling when he unleashes the full power of the finale in moments of blazing climax. He must have had the audience on the edge of their seats. Against this tumult, the sudden whispered quiet of the chorus is doubly effective. Soprano Mari Eriksmoen emerges with melting lyricism, and yet you are aware that Rouvali milks nothing for effect—his eye is fixed on the musicality of every measure. You also notice how even the softest passages retain a restrained intensity that keeps the moving line tensile and alive. This is particularly helpful in the duets for mezzo and soprano, where the momentum is most likely to sag. Here, not a single transition is awkward or faltering.

The final apotheosis is so magnificently handled that I can’t blame the producers for including a minute of excited applause from the audience in Royal Festival Hall. For anyone who has harbored doubts about Rouvali’s meteoric rise, a performance as imaginative and beautifully shaped as this one should dispel them. I’m convinced that he has a special gift. I cannot wait to see how it will unfold in the coming years.

-- Fanfare (Huntley Dent)

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  • Release Specifications

    • Number of Discs: 2
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    • Label: Signum Classics
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