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Musical Discussions
Topic: Mahler: Symphony No. 2 in C Minor ("Resurrection")

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Posted by Romy the Cat on 10-24-2004

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There are some “unlucky” compositions for “audio people”. For instance the Mozart’s Requiem: still there is no good performance of this work committed to a recording media. Yes, there are more or less OK performances of the Requiem but the complexity of this work is so high that it never was performed as it MIGHT be, and certainly it never was properly recorded.

One of those works - with “unlucky recording fate” is Mahler’s Symphony #2 or the infamies "Resurrection". The sonic intricacy and musical density of this work is very high: very few were able to perform it more or less acceptable but no one recorded it well. Mahler’s low-level “whisperings” along with the explosives of his music, oversized orchestras and many other things made this work almost imposable to record, not to mention to reproduce… Perhaps it is no surprise that the best performance, for instance by Scherchen or Barbirolli were made with the smaller orchestras suffering from the “players volume deficiency” (as far as Mahler concern). Those performances staffed with “up-close conducting articulation” but diluted with “live” overly ambient sound…  deeply exploit listener's imagination and those recordings, I would say, more imply the Mahler music then present Mahler music…

However, the fan is coming…

4 years ago, visiting Tokyo, I bought a fresh Japanese pressing of Saito Kinen Orchestra lead by Ozawa performing “live” Resurrection in 1990. I hate Ozawa and under normal circumstances I would never touch it but it was kind of a fan looking album. On the picture Seiji Ozawa looked “dynamically sexy”, the very large orchestra consisted explicitly with the Seiji cousins and the album had explicitly Japanese “mystery” letters. I said: “What the hell!” and bought the album.

Over the course of those 4 years I recursively return my attention to this performance. Ozawa reading within this performance is phenomenal and the orchestra itself doses a fantastic job. Although the orchestra has a slight touch of the Japanese musical anal-retentiveness but I would say that this time is was a tasteful anal-retentiveness. The orchestra is superbly disciplined and managed. It dose not have that Vienna or Berlin Philharmonic luxury when instruments and the instruments groups have a certain sovereignty and freedom but as the whole orchestra they still within the boundary of a combined unified intention. The Saito Kinen Orchestra sounds more like they individually gave up to the Ozawa’s spirit … and this time he really knew what to do with them! I am much less impressed with singers and with choruses but still in context of everything else they were justifiable and reasonable. I would say that the entire performance was musical but … I have problem with “one aspect”…

Sony Corporation that conducted recording of this event screw everything up, once again they did! It is like our “Columbia” that signed superb artists to thier contacts and castrated each of then with Columbia’s Sound recording techniques. I know the contemporary Sony sound. Buy each and single contemporary Sony produced CD and we will get the same: harmonically bleached, fundamentals centric, overly hygienic and foolishly sterilized sound (but here is where my Acoustic Dimension Synthesizers and a practice of active reconstructing of reverberations and phases randomizeation in listening environment... REALY help!). This Ozawa/ Saito-Kinen Orchestra performance of the Resurrection is deeply deepen into the same damn-Sony depersonalizing sonic barbarianism, however can we blame the conductor and the musicians? I do not think so. All that we can do at this point is just to recognize the "Sony Factor" and tune outsell off from it while we’re listening the symphony.

Yes, thanks to Sony you will not have that “nervous tension in air” that you might get from Scherchen’s or Klemperer’s Resurrection, you will not get that decay from entire orchestra fortissimo into “Mahler’s nowhere” that you might get from Barbirolli, and you will not get that  “upper bass” musical wisdom of the Karajan’s Mahler VI…but listing what musicians with Ozawa were TRYING to do you clearly realized that IT WAS THERE…

I wish I were there in the beginning of January of 2000…

Anyhow, I am turning to like this performance a lot and this attempt of Ozawa and Saito Orchestra should be deeply sympathized and appreciated. After all, isn’t what music is all about: to listen and to value how 250 Japanese folks play music of a frustrated German Jew a hundred year after he when to a better world?

A last word of a mischievous feline wisdom: to get the full scope of this performance/recording (disregarding the Sony’s “contribution)” you would need a really full-range playback system with the speakers sensitively as high as possible (the closer to 110dB the better). Also, your playback should be able to handle bass articulation and do not accelerate bass decay at ultra low dynamic level. (Here is my courtesy to Lamm’s ML2 power amp)

Also…. play it loud!!!Play it very loud, Sam!

Romy the Cat

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