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.