Jeremy Lee writes
Mahler’s 2nd symphony isn’t the scariest piece of music ever, but under Solti it might well be. It all becomes obvious when the cellos come in at the very start: it’s aggressive, rough and granite-like–terrifying, really, though not unaided by the microphone. Turn up the volume at the end of the second movement to listen to the beautiful strings, and the violent timpani strokes that start the third will scare the living daylights out of you. The last movement also erupts with the most colossal explosion I have ever heard (save, perhaps, for Bernstein’s). Even those normally relaxing moments, like the lovely second theme in E major of the first movement, most of the second movement or even Urlicht, feel disquiet and even sarcastic a la Shostakovich or Prokofiev, as if they were only isolated eyes of a huge hurricane. It is, as one reviewer put it, “Mahler taken at the scruff of its neck and shaken”.
But credit where credit is due, it is a uniquely dramatic approach that only Solti could manage. The LSO plays with tremendous devotion and concentration, and the brass has no problems handling the extremities of their instruments’ sounding and dynamic range. Helen Watts’ Urlicht is lovely, although she won’t displace Ludwig’s depth, and the chorus in the finale is fine, though not terribly special: certainly Klemperer and Mehta’s choirs are more intensely felt. Sonics are fine-sounding early stereo though the balance can be strange. When all is said and done, it’s a very good performance and a perfect antipodal approach to consider owning if you live with Klemperer’s less dramatic but more philosophical approach. Besides this single-CD release in which all 81 minutes are squeezed, it’s also available on a Double Decca coupled with Solti’s excellent Mahler 1. Warmly recommended.
- Album name: Mahler: Symphony No. 2
- Performers: Heather Harper (soprano); Helen Watts (contralto); Georg Solti (conductor); London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
- Label: Decca Originals 475 8501
- Sonics: Stereo ADD
- Total playing time: 80:53