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Riccardo Chailly/Melanie Diener/Petra Lang/Concertgebouw Orchestra/Prague Philharmonic Choir
MAHLER: SYMPHONY NO. 2; TOTENFEIER
(DECCA)

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No surprises here. The opening bars of the first-movement funeral march, with their bursting-from-the-coffin cellos and basses, are just plain gorgeous. Itís as if the final movementís Last Judgment and Resurrection had arrived early: youíre in sonic heaven. And Chaillyís sensitive, soft-edged interpretation isnít devoid of grit. But after a while you want him to stop the Rolls Royce and let you get out and inhale Godís big, complex, messy world. He treats Mahlerís apocalyptic symphony as if it were a soft-boiled egg, or the veil of the temple that the Concertgebouwís trumpets mustnít be allowed to rend. Perhaps itís no accident that at the climactic moment of the finale, when the sopranoís "Herz" ("heart") soars above the chorus, Melanie Diener is inaudible (is she not singing along?).

This two-discs-for-the-price-of-one release fills out the second CD with Totenfeier, the seldom recorded early version of the symphonyís first movement; you can hear how, just as with his revision of the First Symphony, Mahler tightened the dramatic screws by cutting back on the counterpoint. This is a not inconsiderable bonus, but I suspect youíll find more heart ó and soul ó in the similarly objective readings of the Second by Michael Gielen (Hänssler) and Claudio Abbado with the Vienna Philharmonic (Deutsche Grammophon), not to mention any of the six more idiosyncratic recordings by Otto Klemperer.

BY JEFFREY GANTZ

Issue Date: April 11 - 18, 2002
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