In an industry said to be in more or less dire straits by various sources, I’m amazed that a small boutique label like Oehms can afford to issue two recordings of Mahler’s Resurrection symphony with different conductors and orchestras. Simone Young’s Hamburg recording followed hot on the heels of Markus Stenz’s Cologne effort. Now, here is another Markus Stenz live performance with the Melbourne Symphony, of which he was chief conductor. Stenz proved his credentials as a Mahler conductor during his slow-release cycle a few years ago. This performance dates from December 2004. I don’t know why it’s taken almost a decade to reach us. That said, I enjoyed this traversal. It’s quite different from Simone Young’s: more volatile, with a much greater range of tempos and moods.
Occasionally, I felt he skated over details in the first movement and the phrasing risked sounding perfunctory. (Perhaps ironically, this version is overall about four minutes longer than Young’s.) The Minuet movement is commendably unsentimental but the Scherzo is taken too fast for it to register its sardonic and demonic quality. Both Stenz’s soloists, mezzo-soprano Bernadette Cullen and soprano Elizabeth Whitehouse, seem more comfortable than their Hamburg counterparts.
Also, in the Urlicht solo, the Melbourne Symphony remains in the sound picture, whereas the Hamburg orchestra all but disappears. Stenz’s tempos throughout the manic march section display more light and shade. The entry of the chorus is magical in its hushed intensity and the extremely slow tempo here pays dividends.
Both the Melbourne Chorale and Melbourne Symphony are in excellent form. I can’t help thinking there’s far more engagement with the music than with much of Ashkenazy’s lamentably patchy Sydney Symphony cycle. The acoustic is, appropriately very rich and reverberant. For all its virtues, its addition to the proliferation of choices devalues the currency of this great work.