Back in 2008 I reviewed this performance when it appeared on a EuroArts disc (EuroArts HD-DVD 2054414) using the now defunct HD-DVD technology, a format developed by Toshiba that was competing with Sony's Blu-ray for supremacy in the world of high-def media. Shortly after this recording of the Mahler Second Symphony was issued by EuroArts the technology was discontinued, and I lamented in the review that this fine Boulez performance would quickly disappear unless it was reissued in standard DVD format or Blu-ray. Well, finally here it is on Blu-ray and it enters the fray as one of the most convincing performances of this symphony you're likely to encounter on CD, DVD or Blu-ray.
I recently reviewed Chailly's Blu-ray recording of Mahler's Second on Accentus and it was quite fine, despite a finale that I felt was a bit on the slow side. Here Boulez is marginally better, not least because he has a slightly brisker finale and singers who are as good as or better than Chailly's Christiane Oelze and Sarah Connolly. Soprano Diana Damrau, who is now a superstar in opera, is truly superb here and mezzo Petra Lang is as compelling as the quite excellent Sarah Connolly.
Boulez draws precise and powerful performances from his orchestra, offering a first movement full of drama and tension and a Ländler with grace and, in the darker sections, an unsettling, restive sense. The Scherzo is spirited, with splendid woodwind playing (the clarinets were especially excellent). Lang's Urlicht is well sung, conveying the sense of longing and sadness and hope in beautiful creamy tones. In the finale the orchestral playing and choral singing are superb, as is the soaring, sweet voice of Diana Damrau. The ending is powerful and crowns this magnificent performance with a sense of triumphant finality. All that said, I wish Boulez had taken the finale at a somewhat less broad tempo as well, though he is certainly not egregiously slow. But that is my only quibble regarding this, one of the finest Mahler Seconds in recent years.
As a side note, I should mention that there were some celebrities in the audience on the nights this performance was derived from, and they included pianist Lang Lang and conductor/pianist Daniel Barenboim. EuroArts' sound reproduction is vivid and powerful and their camera work excellent. Highly recommended!
Copyright © 2012, Robert Cummings