Review by georgeflanagin March 17, 2010 (17 of 17 found this review helpful)
Statistics. Pictures. This review has both.
Amazon reveals that there are well over 50 available recordings of this symphony. We seem to want each performer to bring something different to the event, and when they do so, we object. But there is something genuinely strange about the sound of this disc and unsatisfying about this performance. The more I listened, the more out of the mainstream it seemed.
Zinman's interpretation is sepulchral, more appropriate for Mahler's Sixth, with slow tempi and an unusual ebb of energy. It is not incompetent, nor is it a disaster, and it could be the ideal recording to play for people who think any performance of any classical music is more or less the same notes at the same time.
I assume anyone reading the review already knows the music.
Ordinarily, I put the performance first, but this disc is so odd that I have decided the report on the recorded sound is more important and more interesting. Take a look at this picture: http://www.georgeflanagin.com/scope.pics.jpg
On the left hand side, we have the scope photographed just at the first tutti the first movement. On the right hand side, we have a photo of the pulsing figure that dies away after the first series of tutti.
In the Zinman recording, look at the huge KABOOM that is centered in the 31.5Hz 1/3 octave band. This a made by a large, relatively tuned drum that will threaten the structure of a poorly built house, and destroy the peace and quiet of many a neighborhood. It is recorded *way* too loud, and it is pounded intolerably throughout the first movement. Note that it cannot be found at that level in the other recordings.
Note also the much higher recorded level of the . . . less than loud parts. Compression is not quite the whole story, this seems to be simply a slight gain adjustment as well as the fact that Zinman's orchestra just plays louder. It has become somewhat fashionable to record SACDs with the quietest parts of the music almost too soft to hear, and those are not necessarily recordings that I enjoy. But this higher level robs the music of much of its dynamic punch; it is just always loud (or perhaps always soft, depending on where you set the volume control).
I have not heard the multi-channel bits. The stereo recording is reverberant to the point that I looked carefully at the liner notes to see if the venue were perhaps the Lübeck Cathedral used for some of Gunter Wand's Bruckner recordings in his later years. It is not atmospheric; it is boomy and blurring throughout. Which leads me to . . .
The performance seems to drag, and it is not helped by the acoustic. But are timings a fair comparison? Mahler's music, unlike Haydn's, is not filled with two or three optional repeats per movement that frequently clutter comparisons by timings. Let's look at the Zinman v. the ones I used for comparisons.
Zinman: 13:23 / 15:24 / 18:46 / 10:45 / 15:20
MTT&SFO: 12:35 / 15:04 / 19:12 / 10:49 / 15:25
Karajan&BPO: 13:05 / 15:12 / 18:10 / 11:53 / 15:25
Zander: 12:15 / 13:55 / 16:58 / 8:33 / 16:03
Let's look at these another way. How much difference is there in the other three from the Zinman performance?
MTT&SFO: 94% / 98% / 102% / 101% / 101%
Karajan&BPO: 98% / 99% / 97% / 111% / 101%
Zander: 92% / 90% / 91% / 80% / 105%
So, compared with Zander, it /does/ drag along, particularly in the first two movements. The reader should note that Karajan's recording was made before Kaplan's ``adagietto enlightenment,'' and is representative of the generally slower tempi that preceded the most recent generation of Mahlerians.
Psychologically, I think these slow tempi create a leaden start from which the music never recovers. With each new movement I found myself listening with interest, only to sag back into my chair as nothing seemed to click. My mind literally wandered away from Mahler a few times in this, one of my favorite pieces of his. Compare with Zander, from whom I cannot break away.
As far as the playing of the orchestra, the recording is so boomy that I frequently was unsure whether chords were being arpeggiated, or if it was simply the blurring. My house is on a hillside, and the usual floor-ordering of the rooms is reversed. The kitchen is upstairs, above the listening room, and I found that listening to the recording from above with the music arriving via the stairwell did not change the sound very much.
I tried the reverse experiment; removing any room effects at all by listening on the HD650 + emu 0404 headphone amplifier to a 96/24 feed from the ADC. The biggest advantage was the lessening of the house pounding 31.5Hz drum. Other problems were not solved.
Despite my generally good feelings about Zinman's #1 and #2, skip this one.
( c ) 2010 George Flanagin and sa-cd.net
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