Invited to Copenhagen to receive the annual Léonie Sonning Music Prize in March 2018, Mariss Jansons gave a celebration concert of the Resurrection Symphony with the Royal Danish Orchestra (the last conductor so honoured was Simon Rattle in 2013, and he chose the Inextinguishable of Nielsen). It’s a work evidently dear to his heart, as it might be to anyone who has come as close to death as Jansons did in 1996, though the ﬁrst of his three recordings was made in 1989 (Chandos, 8/90), right in the middle of his Oslo tenure, and even back then Edward Seckerson found cause to complain of a calculated restraint that has continued to mark his performances of Mahler and much else ever since.
Barely 18 months after giving the symphony with the Concertgebouw in concert performances that duly ended up on the orchestra’s own label (4/11), Jansons did it again with his ‘other’ orchestra in Munich. In 2013 Arthaus released the ﬁlm of which the present release is, effectively, the soundtrack. Bernarda Fink bestows a grave dignity upon both accounts. There are otherwise noticeable differences between them in matters of pacing always ﬂeeter and tauter in Munich than Amsterdam – if ultimately insigniﬁcant ones, Jansons not being the sort of conductor susceptible to 90-degree swerves in approach.
Conditioned perhaps as much by the notoriously unfavourable Gasteig acoustic as by the collective character of the ensemble, this is a vividly miked Mahler Second, immaculately stage-managed and meticulously ﬁlled with local colour, also one that doesn’t come close to painting the symphony’s bigger picture. The numb but not impassive conclusion to the ﬁrst movement’s funeral rites, the Andante infused with a warm and Haydnesque spirit of affection, even the wild outbursts that precede the ﬂautist’s ‘Bird of Death’ solo in the ﬁnale: these are moments where you can almost hear Jansons throw some caution to the winds.
Cracked into action by sharply tuned timpani, the opening of the Scherzo promises a reading of satirical bite and louring phantasmagoria that never fully materialises despite a nicely pointed turn from the ﬁrst oboe, some Semitically swung trumpet solos and a clarinet solo poised halfway between village inn and concert hall. Grotesque isn’t a word in Jansons’s expressive vocabulary. Among modern Mahlerians there’s much more at stake in live recordings masterminded by Vladimir Jurowski (LPO Live, 8/11) and David Zinman (in the Zurich Tonhalle’s anniversary box – Sony, 8/18). Anja Harteros is both glorious and gloriously secure at the long-awaited or at least intended point of spiritual uplift. Whether sung or played, the words are all there. But the accent, if there is one at all, is not Mahler’s. Peter Quantrill