MAHLER Symphonie No. 2 Schäfer Boulez


Symphonie No. 2
»Auferstehung · Resurrection
Résurrection · Resurrezione«
Christine Schäfer
Michelle DeYoung
Wiener Singverein
Wiener Philharmoniker
Pierre Boulez
Int. Release 02 May. 2006
1 CD / Download
0289 477 6004 7
CD DDD 0289 477 6004 7 GH
Pierre Boulez continues his Mahler Symphonies cycle – the majestic Resurrection – with the Wiener Philharmoniker


Gustav Mahler (1860 - 1911)
Symphony No. 2 in C Minor "Resurrection"

Wiener Philharmoniker, Pierre Boulez

4: "Urlicht"

Michelle DeYoung, Wiener Philharmoniker, Pierre Boulez

Christine Schäfer, Michelle DeYoung, Wiener Singverein, Wiener Philharmoniker, Pierre Boulez

Gesamtspielzeit: 1:20:36

Mahler's music is presented as only a real composer could do it -- architecture and structure like steel, but the whole thing singing with such heartfelt tempos, balances and orchestral detail that it makes you want to cry. Michelle DeYoung and Christine Schaefer are the inspired soloists; the Singverein is still the world's best Mahler chorus; and DG's engineers have managed to get 99 percent of that heaven-storming finale onto a single 4" disc. Sensational.

Was das für ein Glücksfall ist [dass Pierre Boulez und die Wiener Philharmoniker zusammengefunden haben], kann man auf der neuesten CD-Einspielung hören, in der Boulez mit dem Orchester Mahlers Zweite Symphonie im positiven Sinn "zelebriert". Erstaunlich ist an dieser Einspielung zuerst einmal der weiche, unprätentiöse und romantische Erzählton, der im Kopfsatz angeschlagen wird. Ganz ohne Eile läßt der Dirigent, der eben noch "Parsifal" (auch per tempo) entschlackt hat, die Themen vorüberziehen, macht stärker als andere Anklänge an Bruckner und Wagner hörbar . . . Seit jener elektrisierenden Jugendnacht, in der ich diese Symphonie zum erstan Mal in der Aufnahme mit Bruno Walter gehört hatte, hat sie nie wieder so spannend geklungen.

81 Jahre und kein bisschen leise: Wenn Pierre Boulez dirigiert, halten Luzidität und Wucht perfekte Balance. Für Mahlers zerklüftete Gefühlswelt erweist sich der analytische Formsinn des Altmeisters als ideal -- und was filigranen Klang angeht, ist auf die Wiener Philharmoniker Verlass.

Boulez, Komponist (!), Grandseigneur der französischen Avantgarde und Intellektueller, großer Kühler. Einer, dem selbst im Pathos der Zweiten, der ¿Auferstehungs¿-Symphonie, noch die Fotografie gelingt, das röntgenhafte Ablichten der überkomplexen Strukturen, ihre unbedingte Transparenz.

Pierre Boulez conducts Mahler's Symphony no. 2

In the penultimate recording of his Mahler cycle, Pierre Boulez takes on the Second Symphony "Resurrection", one of Mahler's biggest and most popular works. The sweeping, five-movement masterpiece is an epic musical and spiritual journey from death to life eternal, culminating in Mahler's inspiring vision of heavenly bliss.

Boulez's Mahler interpretations, known for their uncompromising approach to the score, have long fascinated a wide public. Boulez eschews romanticized readings common in performance tradition to reveal instead the raw joy and terror in Mahler's large-scale symphonies.

For this recording, vocalists Christine Schäfer and Michelle DeYoung join forces with the Wiener Philharmoniker and Singverein to bring Boulez's vision of this gargantuan piece to life. The result is an incandescent performance on par with the grandeur of Mahler's extra-musical programme.

Critics are agog. "Boulez's Mahler is revelatory in its leanness: no frills, just the music", wrote Larry L. Lash in the Financial Times. "I was trembling by the end of the performance . . . This was not merely an evening's entertainment, but a life-changing experience for anyone who thought they knew their Mahler."

* * * * *

The ink was barely dry on the score of his First Symphony in 1888 when Mahler began to toy with the idea of a new large symphonic work in C minor. The opening movement was soon completed and named Todtenfeier (Funeral Ceremony), but it then languished among his papers until 1891, the year in which he left the Budapest Opera to become conductor in Hamburg. There he attracted the attention of the great conductor Hans von Bülow, well known as a champion of new music. When Mahler played him Todtenfeier on the piano, however, Bülow covered his ears and groaned: "If what I have heard is music, I understand nothing about music . . . Compared with this, Tristan is a Haydn symphony."

Mahler's creative urge survived the master's cruel words, but the Hamburg Opera now consumed most of his time and energy, and it was not until the summer of 1893, spent near Salzburg, that he returned to the Symphony in C minor. He soon completed the Andante he had sketched five years earlier. Immediately afterwards there occurred one of the strangest episodes in his entire creative life: simultaneously and on identical musical material, he composed the song Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredigt and the new symphony's Scherzo. Work was progressing at a dizzying speed, but when the end of the summer came and, with it, the time for his return to Hamburg, Mahler had not yet made any sketches for a finale, though he had composed the Wunderhorn-Lied entitled Urlicht, which would serve as its introduction. What he still lacked was a text for the powerful choral ending he had in mind, something comparable to the finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

In February 1894, Bülow died and Mahler attended his memorial service in Hamburg. During the ceremony he experienced a revelation when "the choir, in the organ-loft, sang Klopstock's Resurrection chorale. It was like a flash of lightning, and everything became plain and clear in my mind!" . . .The initial sketches were noted down immediately on his return home from the service, and the actual composition of the finale was completed within the space of three weeks the following summer. Mahler had added a number of lines to Klopstock's ode, not only amplifying the poet's ideas but also altering their message.

As was his custom at this early stage of his career, Mahler drew up several, essentially similar programmes for the symphony. In the first movement, the "hero" is laid in earth after a long struggle with "life and destiny". Casting a backward glance at his life, he recalls a moment of happiness (the Andante), then reflects on the cruel turmoil of human existence, in a "spirit of disbelief and negation" (the Scherzo). "He despairs of himself and of God . . . Utter disgust for every form of existence and evolution seizes him in its iron grip, tormenting him until he utters a cry of despair."

A redeeming "Urlicht" (Primeval Light) then shines from afar. "Stirring words of simple faith" in the fourth movement sound in the hero's ear, bringing a glimmer of hope. Nevertheless, a long distance still has to be travelled before the final apotheosis. The finale begins with a vision of terror: "The horror of the day of days has come upon us. The earth trembles, the graves burst open, the dead arise and march forth in endless procession. The great and the small of this earth, the kings and the beggars, the just and the godless, all press forward. The cry for mercy and forgiveness sounds fearful in our ears. The wailing becomes gradually more terrible. Our senses desert us; all consciousness dies as the Eternal Judge approaches. The Last Trump sounds; the trumpets of the Apocalypse ring out. In the eerie silence that follows, we can just barely make out a distant nightingale, a last tremulous echo of earthly life. The gentle sound of a chorus of saints and heavenly hosts is then heard: 'Rise again, yes, rise again thou wilt!' Then God in all His glory comes into sight. A wondrous light strikes us to the heart. All is quiet and blissful. Behold: there is no judgement, no sinners, no just men, neither great nor small. There is no punishment and no reward. A feeling of overwhelming love fills us with blissful knowledge and illuminates our earthly life."

Unlike his First Symphony, which long remained misunderstood, Mahler's Second took only a few years to establish itself in the concert hall. Richard Strauss arranged for a performance of the first three movements at a Philharmonic concert in Berlin in March 1895, which Mahler himself conducted, but the critics afterwards accused the young composer of shattering his listeners' eardrums with his "noisy and bombastic pathos" and "atrocious, tormenting dissonances". Undeterred, Mahler organized the first performance of the complete work nine months later, again in Berlin, but this time including soloists and chorus. By the end of the evening he felt reassured by the audience's enthusiastic response, but with the next morning's newspapers came renewed and bitter attacks. Fortunately, the blow was tempered by the enthusiasm of such distinguished admirers as the conductors Arthur Nikisch and Felix Weingartner and the composer Engelbert Humperdinck. The Munich premiere, during the winter of 1900/01, created something of a stir, and when Mahler conducted the Second in the great Basle Cathedral in 1903, another performance organized by Strauss, the work and its composer were both ecstatically received.

Henry-Louis de La Grange
(excerpts from the booklet accompanying the CD)