Sunday, August 06, 2006

A fate worse than fame.

Among many Mahlerites - and certainly among British critics - Simon Rattle's 1987 performance of the 2nd is considered one of the best. Like everything else the British Von Karajan has done, I've never quite warmed to it. (Wait, that isn't fair. Von Karajan's Mahler, especially his 1978 reading of the 6th, was quite good. Anyway.) Last night, I sat down and - with grim determination - listened to Rattle's Mahler 2nd.

I realized why I "never quite warmed to it." It is, in a word, boring. Also, EMI recorded it somewhat strangely, but I can deal with that. The boringness, though, is somewhat of a stickier wicket.

It oozes correctness. Every note, every Luftpause, and every application of rubato is - to my ears - scrupulously observed. However, that's all. It is as though Rattle and his CBSO set out to hit all the notes in the score of Mahler's 2nd, in order, not play Mahler's 2nd. I know that's a linguistically-challenging statement, but bear with me. In Leonard Bernstein's DG version with the New York Philharmonic and Zubin Mehta's with the Wiener Philharmoniker, one senses an almost-Herculean effort to let the soul of Mahler's score find voice. When the chorus comes back with the final "Aufersteh'n, ja, aufersteh'n wirst du," (i.e., in those recordings) one understands about what Mahler spoke.

Not so with Rattle.

One understands that Simon Rattle is a conductor who can get an orchestra to play all the notes. He falls victim to a fate worse than fame, in Warren Zevon's words, and that is fame without any real talent. Even Von Karajan managed to get a barn-burner or two going on occasion.


At 8:01 PM, Blogger Alexander Johannesen said...

I've only got the Oslo Philharmonic / Mariss Janson rendering of Mahler's second, and I find it rather good, although I know some don't. What's your take? I've heard the Rattle version, and you're right ; it *is* boring ... playing it, but not getting it.

At 11:31 PM, Blogger Terry said...

The Rattle version was the first time I had listened to the Second, and it so turned me off that it wasn't until Mehta's recording of the work that I even understood both the greatness of the Mahler, and the boring tripe that is Rattle.

Of course, now I'm partial to Boulez (i.e. he's the flavor of the month). Slatkin gets "props" only because he is my hometown conductor with the NSO...and his version is good.

At 12:22 AM, Blogger Patrick J. Smith said...

Alexander: It is a very good recording, excellent - even - and typical of Jansons' high standards. It might not be Bernstein's NYPO recording, but it certainly isn't without its charms.

Terry: Mehta makes me worry for the Sofiensaal. He's that intense. As for Slatkin: he has been on a downward spiral. Sorry.

At 3:44 PM, Blogger Terry said...

You don't have to tell me. I've only been to the NSO for the Die Walkure, and that mostly because of the Hunding, Eric Halverson.

At 10:33 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Smith said...

The NSO is mediocre to the point of campy. I suppose I'm spoiled, with both Chicago and Cleveland within a day's drive of my residences. However, I wouldn't bother with D.C. culture - with New York being only a train trip away.

Your fixation with Mr. Halfvarson is most unbecoming. My divo, Peter Schreier has the added benefit of being first-rate. I wish you could say the same.


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