Bertini Mahler Sym No 2

Gary Bertini’s is that rare beast a tasteful Mahler 2. Having heard Vänskä at odds with its OTT strains it was a relief to hear that someone somewhere was challenging the Bernsteinonomy of this piece as metaphysical drama. Back in its box went the zeal and sanctimonious pondering and out came a refreshing piece of choral singing made all the more impressive by the absence of zeal which in certain places has overtaken musical good taste.

This is an uncommonly well played, sung and recorded reading of the work. And it is nowhere finer in my mind than in the third movement where charm and good order are the order of the day. Mahler’s orchestration demands well judged playing and yet for many it’s over-the-edge playing which gets the pulse racing in this piece. It doesn’t have to be that way as Bertini proves. When Mahler demands percussion asides they are discreet but meaningful not delivered at full volume and delivered with all the clarity of a South West Trains announcer. The spotlighting approach may serve to dress the relatively modest window of Mahler’s imagination but it also draws attention to the paucity of attractive ideas in this work. Whipping everything up into a frenzy is so very 20th Century……

So Bertini delivers the goods with a little reserve and what does he ring out in doing so you might ask me as you throw another Bernstein in the fire. He succeeds in placing the symphony in that pantheon of grand choral works which have a simple but not grandiose message: for me that fits with Brahms German Requiem, Bruckner’s Te Deum, Scriabin’s First Symphony and Vaughan Williams Sea Symphony. None of these are trifles. Moreover it shows more variety and invention than say, Daphnis et Chloe.

All of which is not to say that high drama can’t be successful in this work - I heard Gergiev achieve this once. MTT achieves something of the inner drama too - largely thanks to very fine playing and the singing of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. But its takes a lot of bottle and I dare say luck too. Luckily we have Bertini in fine EMI sound playing the score without an increasingly furrowed brow.


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