CD from Chelm: Another Dull Jansons Mahler 2

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 5

Sound Quality: 8

You read it right–this is not a “CD from Hell,” but rather a “CD from Chelm,” the notorious city of fools in Jewish folklore, and a dumber release than this it would be difficult to imagine. Jansons has recorded Mahler’s Second Symphony three times now, and no one has cared about any of them. He started for Chandos, with his own Oslo Philharmonic, a recording noteworthy for its interpretive anonymity. Then, just recently, he did it again with the Concertgebouw, a dull, soft-edged reading similarly devoid of passion and intensity.

Now we have this one, quicker than the last–indeed, it fits on a single disc, and manages to sound both dull and rushed at the same time, chopping several minutes off of his last run-through. I suppose that’s an achievement of sorts. Now let’s honest: is there ever any reason to rush the closing pages of this symphony? If ever there was a moment to stand back, take your time, and just let it rip, it is here, but Jansons offers the same neat, tidy, zippy, mechanical gloss on the music that seems so typical of just about everything he does these days. I suppose this would matter less if he cared about such trivialities as textural detail and balance, but he doesn’t. So when the closing pages, with their unpleasantly high-pitched, clanking bells and inaudible tam-tams draw to a close, the final impression is of a total non-event–a celebration, not of Mahler transcendental hymn to the immortality of the soul, but of the fact that everyone finished the damn thing in time for a late night snack before heading home.

So there’s no point in discussing the interpretation, such as it is, in greater detail, because it really has no “greater detail.” There is literally nothing going on here, and this, in one of the most theatrical, cosmically strenuous, excessive pieces ever written. Every performance should be an event. But beyond that, what has Jansons done to justify three recordings of this symphony? Has he rethought his approach? Does he bring any startling new interpretive insights? Are collectors drooling with anticipation to snap up his latest thoughts?

No, it just so happens that Mahler 2 is in Jansons’ repertoire this year, and the orchestras he leads are documenting this by releasing average discs containing average performances by their very, very average conductor, completely heedless of what he may have done previously, or what the real appetite is among music lovers for such a thing. A CD from Chelm indeed.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Fischer (Channel Classics); Bernstein (DG); Haitink I (Philips)

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