Organic rebirth

A monumental masterpiece, miraculously brought to life

Lebrecht's Album of the Week

Gustav Mahler: 2nd symphony ‘Resurrection’ (Pentatone)


If ever you want to know why records are going out of business, look no further than the small print at the back of the booklet. The present performance was recorded in November-December 2018 in the Dvorak Hall in Prague. Almost five years have elapsed before we got to hear it. And just as the first copies were sent out three months ago they were instantly withdrawn because of ‘a manufacturing fault’, apparently in a German pressing plant. Does time mean nothing to record managements?

No matter. All is forgiven on listening to the recording, which raises the bar yet higher on the Mahler cycle-in-progress by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and its ex-Russian conductor Semyon Bychkov. The Czechs have unique credentials in Mahler, both as the composer’s homeland orchestra and because the brass and wind soloists he wrote for in Vienna were often of the same origin. Mahler insisted (in a letter to Leos Janacek) that he spoke no Czech. On occasion, however, his music does – very loudly – and this orchestra speaks his idiom better than any other. Its soloists should have been named in the sleeve notes so we could give them credit, yet another record label oversight.

The Mahler scores I have studied in the Czech Philharmonic archives bear the markings of epic interpreters – Mahler himself , Zemlinsky, Bruno Walter, Vaclav Talich, Rafael Kubelik. Each adds his own perspectives and Bychkov’s is no less valuable than any of his predecessors. Bychkov takes the early movements at a rather deliberate ‘moderato’ that proves deceptive in retrospect  when you realise how microsopically he has built tension over an hourlong span until catharsis in the Resurrection chorus offers organic rebirth.

The soloists, Elisabeth Kulman and Christiane Karg, are serenity personified and the Prague Philharmonic Choir shimmers like a forest lake at dawn. This performance goes down without qualification in my book as one of the great Resurrections on record, alongside Oskar Fried, Klemperer, Bernstein, Tennstedt, Abbado and the two Fischers. Ivan and Adam. A monumental masterpiece, miraculously brought to life.

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