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Discussion: Mahler: Symphony No. 2 - San Francisco/Michael Tilson Thomas

Posts: 44
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Post by jdaniel@jps.net November 15, 2004 (1 of 44)
*Finally* got to buy this issue and listen to the last mov't at least. Curiously, the musicians are placed more distantly than in other SFOM issues; I had high hopes that at least recording-wise, it would strike that perfect balance between immediacy and, er...'global-ness,' like the 1st and the 6th. While percussion explode out of the texture most gratifyingly, I would have preferred a little more celli and bass in the mix. And who is that very excited trumpet player in the 'opening of the graves' fanfare?!? His repetitive notes drown out everything else! Did I get tingles here and there? Yes. Those long, cacaphonous stretches until the final destruction of the Earth have *so* much room to breathe in surround, and the playing is very exciting. Alas, the soprano breaking away from the hushed choir isn't as ecstatic as it could be.

MTT takes an expansive view of the choral finale, which I like--I heard him do this live a couple of years ago and the finale seemed quite quick and expedient to me. The organ is present, but not room-shaking like Bernstein's 2nd DG remake--one really feels as though the Universe is vibrating with that set of pipes. Again, a little more immediacy would have helped prop up MTT's epic intentions, I felt myself leaning forward--how in the world can an orchestra sound so distant in surround! Anyway, just a few first impressions for y'all.

Post by jdaniel@jps.net November 15, 2004 (2 of 44)
Just listened to the 1st mov't, (the neighbor went out to walk the dog), it's *riveting.* By the very first bass drum/cymbal crash, you know this is going to be some serious business. The noble/sentimental music in the middle is exquisitely phrased--loved it. MTT finds a lot to uncover in this entire mov't without bending the music out of shape.

Another thing. I turned the stereo up--way up, though there's blessedly no distortion from doing this. Maybe the recording was mastered at a low level this time around. This really locked the sound picture in, and gave everything much-needed traction. I look forward to listening to the final mov'ts again tomorrow with what I now believe to be a better volume setting.

Post by brenda November 16, 2004 (3 of 44)
jdaniel@jps.net said:

Another thing. I turned the stereo up--way up.... Maybe the recording was mastered at a low level this time around.... I look forward to listening to the final mov'ts again tomorrow with what I now believe to be a better volume setting.

dear jd, how did the higher volume setting work, and did it overcome your inital reservations?

Post by Dinko November 16, 2004 (4 of 44)
Ugh... this was a massive disappointment.
Got it a week ago, listened to it the first day, and haven't touched it since. Probably won't touch again for a long time. The performance bored me, and the sound was completely unremarkable. I won't bother with this when there's so much better stuff out there. I don't think I'll be buying any more of the SFS releases either. Symphonies 1 & 6 I loved. Symphonies 3 & 4 sounded nice, but the performances left me cold and I haven't listened to those two in months.

Post by jdaniel@jps.net November 16, 2004 (5 of 44)
brenda said:

dear jd, how did the higher volume setting work, and did it overcome your inital reservations?

Yes, turning up the volume, to about 145degrees (from the usual 125), locked everything in and brought back the mid-bass material I thought so fatally lacking in my first listen. I'm also listening on my cheapie $200 Sony which has a smaller soundstage than my XA777ES which I sold recently. I liked the performance overall. I still believe the first mov't to be one of the best I've heard. The 2nd and 3rd are very well-done. The violent outburst at the end of the 3rd mov't has all the room it needs to breathe. You *must* hear this in discreet surround. The mezzo in the 4th mov't is captivating and the accompaniment very sensitive. The finale, turned up now, locks into place. (The recording reminds me of Telarc's recording of the Gliere 3rd--it also must be turned up for the sound to get some traction.) The brass playing leading into the 'opening of the graves' section is *very* good--grave and noble sounding. I figured out what the problem is with that one loud trumpet during the fanfares that follow: the off-stage brass, with their call and response fanfares, are drowned out, so the chords are not filled in. One can only hear the orchestra trumpets playing single notes of the chord. Probably the one fatal moment of the performance. The two percussion crescendi...wow.

The playing is very exciting and *musical* leading up to the 'destruction of the Earth.' Discreet surround does wonders to untangle all that is going on, esp. in the percussion. The desolate writing afterwards loses a little in the suspention of disbelief dept. The off-stage fanfare, one of the great moments in imaginative brass writing, sounds curiously tentative. So *this* is what "waivering in the presence of evil-doers" sounds like. I always wondered.... Another thing: I would like to remind some audience members that since we're at the point in the music where one's soul has left its physical body back on Earth there's NO NEED TO COUGH OR SNEEZE ANYMORE. I hope a special place in Hell is reserved for these people.

The soprano does here best and is youthfully endearing and pure in voice, but doesn't capture the ear, or have the stage presence of the mezzo. The exalted orchestral writing between choral sections sounds expectant rather than glowing and relaxed. The choral work at the end deserves special praise--their sound is grand but they are also very musical and their characterizations of the text--from pleading and frightened to exalted and valedictory-- is unusually vivid. With volume turned up, the organ has re-appeared. The all-orchestral coda finally sounds 'right' in discreet surround and MTT is careful to get the chord progressions out there amid the cacaphony.

No Mahler 2nd can be perfect. I went back the the Bernstein and, while loving the performance, the grittiness of the redbook CD sound was an unavoidable distraction. The overall sound *is* actually very good--I think we get kind of spoiled these days. The ambience is different in this issue however. It has a bootleg, '30's radio-broadcast-esque quality that I'll mischieviously suggest will make "Mahlerians" think this is "real" Mahler....

Post by tream November 16, 2004 (6 of 44)
jdaniel@jps.net said:

Yes, turning up the volume, to about 145degrees (from the usual 125), locked everything in and brought back the mid-bass material I thought so fatally lacking in my first listen. I'm also listening on my cheapie $200 Sony which has a smaller soundstage than my XA777ES which I sold recently. I liked the performance overall. I still believe the first mov't to be one of the best I've heard. The 2nd and 3rd are very well-done. The violent outburst at the end of the 3rd mov't has all the room it needs to breathe. You *must* hear this in discreet surround. The mezzo in the 4th mov't is captivating and the accompaniment very sensitive. The finale, turned up now, locks into place. (The recording reminds me of Telarc's recording of the Gliere 3rd--it also must be turned up for the sound to get some traction.) The brass playing leading into the 'opening of the graves' section is *very* good--grave and noble sounding. I figured out what the problem is with that one loud trumpet during the fanfares that follow: the off-stage brass, with their call and response fanfares, are drowned out, so the chords are not filled in. One can only hear the orchestra trumpets playing single notes of the chord. Probably the one fatal moment of the performance. The two percussion crescendi...wow.

The playing is very exciting and *musical* leading up to the 'destruction of the Earth.' Discreet surround does wonders to untangle all that is going on, esp. in the percussion. The desolate writing afterwards loses a little in the suspention of disbelief dept. The off-stage fanfare, one of the great moments in imaginative brass writing, sounds curiously tentative. So *this* is what "waivering in the presence of evil-doers" sounds like. I always wondered.... Another thing: I would like to remind some audience members that since we're at the point in the music where one's soul has left its physical body back on Earth there's NO NEED TO COUGH OR SNEEZE ANYMORE. I hope a special place in Hell is reserved for these people.

The soprano does here best and is youthfully endearing and pure in voice, but doesn't capture the ear, or have the stage presence of the mezzo. The exalted orchestral writing between choral sections sounds expectant rather than glowing and relaxed. The choral work at the end deserves special praise--their sound is grand but they are also very musical and their characterizations of the text--from pleading and frightened to exalted and valedictory-- is unusually vivid. With volume turned up, the organ has re-appeared. The all-orchestral coda finally sounds 'right' in discreet surround and MTT is careful to get the chord progressions out there amid the cacaphony.

No Mahler 2nd can be perfect. I went back the the Bernstein and, while loving the performance, the grittiness of the redbook CD sound was an unavoidable distraction. The overall sound *is* actually very good--I think we get kind of spoiled these days. The ambience is different in this issue however. It has a bootleg, '30's radio-broadcast-esque quality that I'll mischieviously suggest will make "Mahlerians" think this is "real" Mahler....

Your description matches well with what I heard live at Davies. I also find that the SFS Mahler series deserves to be heard at fairly high (realistic) SPL's. The sound gets better the louder it is.

Post by seth November 16, 2004 (7 of 44)
No Mahler 2nd can be perfect.
eh, Mehta, Klemperer (Philharmonia) and Gielen all get pretty close.

Post by peteyspambucket November 17, 2004 (8 of 44)
I'm not shocked that not too many like MTT's Mahler 2. I too believe that Mehta's only DECCA and Gielen's, additionally, Chailly's is pretty good too, as strong contenders in the RBCD field. The Litton SACD is quite good, and until a better version comes to SACD, I won't be buying another Mahler 2 for a while.

(Note to self: get rid of MTT Mahler cycle ASAP before the used CD store won't take them from me anymore when everyone else starts trying to get rid of theirs, too.)

Post by hanser November 17, 2004 (9 of 44)
What about the Kaplan recording on SACD? Has anybody compared those two yet?

Post by akiralx November 17, 2004 (10 of 44)
hanser said:

What about the Kaplan recording on SACD? Has anybody compared those two yet?

Can't help on that one. I think the Kaplan is superb - I was all ready to dislike it as I wasn't convinced by the musical intellect of someone who only conducts one work - but the performance is outstanding to my ears.

Kaplan doesn't do anything astonishing interpretatively but it's the just the way the whole work is shaped and his little touches in turning a phrase that lift the performance. You get the impression that he knows the work so well and where all the potential pitfalls are.

Also superb sound (I have it on SACD and play it in multi-channel but it sounds phenomenal even in the car) and excellent orchestral playing. Having this SACD is the main reason I won't be getting the MTT M2 hybrid set.

You may find useful comments on the Mahler board, concerning Kaplan, MTT and Abbado's recent RBCD Mahler 2 set from Lucerne:

http://www.klassi.org/mahler/viewforum.php?f=1

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