I have previously expressed in this forum my enthusiasm for this conductor and orchestra, among the finest performing ensembles in the world today. Having so admired their Bartok, Kodaly and Rachmaninoff, I was eager to hear what they would do with this monument of the Germanic symphonic repertory. I am happy to report that they deliver a triumphant "Resurrection" Symphony - brilliant in concept, execution and sound quality.
A few months ago I recommended the recording by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony and Chorus. I did (and still) have reservations about MTT's interpretation of the first three movements, which I find somewhat emotionally remote, although still intriguing. But the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's singing of the fourth movement "Urlicht" text remains the most spiritually intense and moving performance of that music I have ever heard, and MTT and the San Franciscans are wholly compelling in the sprawling finale, giving that powerful but sometimes structurally problematical music a rarely achieved coherence, momentum and cumulative impact.
If MTT's reading seems, to this listener, to break the symphony into two parts, Fischer's vision of the music is more organically unified from start to finish. The first movement is appropriately dark and brooding, but the dark drama is leavened with some surprisingly graceful phrases that give the music freshness and surprise as well. One of Fischer's great gifts as a conductor is his ability to bring fresh insight to passages that most conductors render routinely.
The second movement is just about perfect. The three-quarter-time landler appropriately evokes peasant dance, and Fischer's subtly controlled rubato is at once earthy and graceful - a gorgeous reading. The following scherzo is fleet and sinister, with the bass drum punctuations - inaudible on the MTT recording - well captured. The huge orchestral outburst near the end is stunning.
Birgit Rennert's Urlicht may not match the spiritual depth of Lieberson for MTT - indeed, no one does - but her singing is vocally resplendent and quite moving in its warmth. And all of the performing forces are magnificent in the finale - including the engineers. This wonderful recording is for me the best Mahler Second of the digital era, and worthy to stand atop the heap alongside Otto Klemperer's great early 60's monument on EMI - about the highest praise I can bestow.
Ivan Fischer is scheduled to assume leadership of the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington D.C., and I envy the patrons of that ensemble. My local Chicago Symphony is currently searching for a permanent music director to replace the departed - and unlamented by this writer - Daniel Barenboim. I can only hope that Chicago winds up with an equally inspiring leader, although that will not be easy. Meanwhile, I'm looking into cheap air fares between Chicago and Washington.