MAHLER: Symphony No. 2 in C minor "Resurrection."
MAHLER: Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor
"The Power of the Orchestra"
Bernard Haitink, one of the most venerated conductors of our time, has been associated with many major orchestras. He first appeared with the Chicago Symphony in 1976 and has appeared there often; in 2006 he was appointed principal conductor of the orchestra. The Orchestra's label, CSO Resound, includes Haitink live performances of Mahler's symphonies 1, 3 and 6, Bruckner's Symphony No. 7, as well as works of Ravel and Poulenc. Now we have this extraordinary interpretation of Mahler's Symphony No. 2 edited from four performances in November 2008. Haitink has had a long association with the Resurrection. He first recorded it in May 1968 with the Royal Concertgebouw for Philips, and the same label issued a DVD of his performance of it Christmas Day 1984 (REVIEW). Another DVD is available with the Berlin Philharmonic taped in 1993 (REVIEW). This new CSO issue is terrific and has the advantage of excellent sound—the Chicago engineering staff has not always been this successful in capturing the Orchestra's sound. For me, the Haitink Mahler 2 to have is th 1984 DVD.
Mahler's Symphony No. 5 has fared very well on SACD; there are fine recordings with conductors Claudio Abbado, Iván Fischer, Michael Tilson Thomas, Benjamin Zander, and Mariss Jansons (Bernard Haitink's 1970 Concertgebouw is the least successful of Pentatone's quad releases). Now here is another addition to this exclusive list, with Markus Stenz, who has many recordings of contemporary music to his credit, leading his initial venture into Mahler. It is a straightforward, direct performance with a brisk (8:42) but not insensitive reading of the Adagietto. The orchestra is outstanding. The recording was made in late January 2009 in Köln's concert hall, and sonically we have a huge, well-defined sound thanks to producers Dieter Oehms and Jens Schünemann. This disk is accompanied by a large catalog of 2010 Oehms Classics releases.
Audiophiles will welcome the Analogue Productions reissue of the famous RCA stereo LP called The Power of the Orchestra. This features René Leibowitz conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in music of Mussorgsky, the Ravel orchestration of Pictures at an Exhibition, and a unique arrangement of A Night on Bare Mountain, recorded in 1962.Collectors will remember the original LP cover which is reproduced on the SACD. Producer Charles Gerhardt and engineer Kenneth Wilkinson had worked with Leibowitz a number of times before, particularly in 1961 when they made their memorable set of Beethoven symphonies, today still one of the best-sounding versions of this music. The Gerhardt/Wilkinson team went all out to make this Mussorgsky disk a sonic spectacular, with some gimmicks, particularly addition of a wind machine and gongs at the climax of Night just before the soft closing passage. Gerhardt told me they decided they didn't want to use the Stokowski ending for Night, and he asked Leibowitz to write "a wild one," which, indeed, he did, and if I recall correctly, Leibowitz did it overnight! At the end of the soft closing passage in the original, we hear the new version: mysterious rumblings in the bass and a Schoenbergesque restatement of the principal theme punctuated by massive gongs. It is quite exciting, indeed. In Pictures, xylophone repeated passages are heard once on each side, to great effect. This is a two-track stereo recording and no attempt has been made to produce "surround" sound—however, the transfer from the analog originals as processed here permits us to hear these exciting performances as never before. It is a premium price issue, but worth it.
R.E.B. (December 2009)