Mahler-Symphony No. 2 (Mehta) (DVD-Audio) (2001) (NTSC)
Audio-Only Track-DVD Audio Catalogue (8)
|Year Of Production||2001|
|RSDL / Flipper||No/No||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||1,2,3,4,5,6||Directed By||Zubin Mehta|
Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
Prague Philharmonic Choir
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||
Audio Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Audio MLP 88.2/24 5.1
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||480i (NTSC)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.33:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
His work once described publicly by Paul Keating (ex-Australian Prime Minister) as the 'paragon of musical experience', Gustav Mahler was born on July 7, 1860 in Kalischt, Bohemia, now part of Czechoslovakia. He studied at the Vienna Conservatory and eventually became director of the Vienna Opera for 10 years. In 1907, perhaps prompted in part by the currents of anti-Semitism in Europe, he moved to New York to become director of the Metropolitan Opera. Declining health prompted a return to his roots and in 1911 he moved back to Vienna and died the same year on May 18th aged 51.
Mahler's early works comprised collections of folk songs, the melodies of which can be found in his later works and the words of which can be found in the choral parts of his symphonies including the 2nd. Best known for his 10 symphonies, the first 8 were composed whilst director of the Vienna Opera, the 9th whilst he was in New York and the 10th remained unfinished at the time of his death.
Mahler's symphonic works are complex pieces of music. Multiple short-lived themes vie with instrumental breaks to evoke feeling - truly mood music. Mahler would have been a great score composer for some of the contemporary movie epics. There are rare opportunities to grasp a Mozartian melody or admire the symmetry, logic or completeness of Bach. Stirring patriotic movements, as may be found from Tchaikovsky or Wagner, are largely absent. Mahler's works are about the human condition - birth, death, relationship with God, why are we here? Where do we come from and where are we going? (No, No, No it's not 42!) As such, they bypass the head and hone in on the heart and the soul (perhaps the same thing?). Although this may sound uncomfortably hocus-pocus, there are many people whose life has been changed by the music - check out some of the testimonies on Mahler's virtual shrine and others who have been intrigued enough to write fiction based on the mystical properties of his work to unlock the secrets of life, such as Greg Bear's Songs of Earth and Power.
Anyway, on to the subject of this review, Mahler's 2nd Symphony in C minor, known also, more concisely, as 'Resurrection', and this is the theme of this work. If a symphony is likened to a play then the acts, musically speaking, are the movements and the 2nd Symphony has 5 of these.
The 1st movement was based on a Totenfeier (death-song) which started off as a dirge, composed in 1888, for the lamented hero of Mahler's 1st Symphony. Imagine yourself standing by the open grave, seeking answers to the eternal questions: 'Was life just a big joke? Why have you lived?, Why have you suffered?' - Mahler himself said "In whoever's life this call has been heard - an answer must be given, and this answer I will give in the last movement" - It took Mahler another 6 years to write the 5th and final movement. He had some ideas of including a chorus section, but didn't want this to sound too similar to Beethoven's 9th Symphony. His inspiration finally came at the funeral of his idol, conductor Hans von Bulow, when the choir sang a chorale by poet Friedrich Klopstock:
Rise again, yes, you will rise again, My dust, after short rest! Immortal life, He who called you will grant you!
You were sown to bloom again! The Lord of the harvest goes and reaps us who died - Like sheaves!
The in-between 2nd, 3rd and 4th movements, written in 1893, were regarded as intermezzi by Mahler and were based on poetry and folk songs. Some of these were gleaned from Das Knaben Wunderhorn (The boy's magic horn), an anthology published earlier that century. Mahler was also prone to issuing instructions about the performance of his works and he was insistent that, after the doom and gloom of the 1st movement, there should be a five minute silence - needless to say this edict is not often followed these days and wouldn't be too popular on recordings!
The 2nd movement, an andante moderato (slow walk), harkens back to the idyllic days of youth and the progressive loss of innocence. The 3rd movement, a scherzo (brisk, up-tempo 5-part movement) is a musical version of the Wunderhorn song 'Des Antonius von Padua Fischpredig' and depicts St Anthony, in a picturesque setting, with fish-rich waters rippling by interrupted and climaxed by a discordant "instrumental cry of horror". The 4th movement introduces the choral works of the Symphony with an alto solo of the poem Primal light and is supposed to mark the turning point of the piece towards an increasing confidence in greater things to come....
This version of Resurrection marks conductor Zubin Mehta's 2nd recording of this symphony (the first was with the Vienna Philharmonic in 1975) and was recorded with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and Prague Philharmonic Choir in Tel Aviv at the Fredric R. Mann Auditorium in 1994. If you're wondering which bits of the symphony have been missed out on to fit the usual 83-87 minutes into a 79 minute performance, the answer is none! Maybe Mehta was under pressure to produce a sub-80 minute recording which would fit onto a single CD or maybe, as the sleeve notes attest, he was anxious to play the Scherzo at a fast enough tempo to "convey the uninterrupted flow of the rippling river". - I'll let the listener be the judge of that! The vocal leads were provided by the US opera singers Nancy Gustafson as soprano and Florence Quivar as mezzo-soprano.
High resolution, multi-channel, audio formats must represent the optimal means of conveying such a complex piece of classical music. The earthy deep feel of the double-basses, the crash of percussion and the soaring qualities of the female opera singers all lend themselves ideally to the enhanced resolution, dynamic and frequency ranges of DVD-Audio (or SACD). The surround qualities of DVD ideally suit the 'off-stage' and advancing orchestration of the final movement or the composer's request for the wind section in the 4th movement to play "from the back of the orchestral platform". You'd have to say that multi-channel is the only way to go!
|1. I. Allegro Maestoso|
2. II. Andante Moderato
3. III. In Ruhig Fliebender Bewegung
4. IV. "Urlicht": Sehr Feierlich
5. V. Finale.Im Tempo Des Scherzo
6. Wieder Sehr Breit
|7. Molto Ritenuto. Maestoso|
8. Wieder Zuruckhaltend
9. Langsam. Misterioso
10. Etwas Bewegter
11. Mit Aufschwung, Aber Nicht Eilen
As is usual with DVD-A, the video stills are in 1.33:1, NTSC encoded format. They are, however, of high quality with nice pictures of Mahler to gaze upon and in the DVD-A version, helpful notes of orchestration from the composer are included. There are no significant video artefacts discernible and the stills are detailed with excellent resolution and colouration.
Down to the nitty gritty - does this high-tech, recent recording live up to expectation and deliver the atmosphere, quality and excitement of a live performance? Well I'm disappointed to say, in my opinion, the answer is...not quite, at least not yet.
There are two audio tracks on this DVD, the DVD-A version is 5.1 surround sampled at 88.2 kHz and the DVD-V version is in Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 448 kbps. There is no DVD-A stereo track as intimated on the case insert. I listened to the DVD-A in its entirety several times, downmixed it via the player to DVD-A stereo and even changed amps at one stage to see if I had a hardware problem. I also compared it to the Oleg Caetani recording on the Arts Audiophile CD label which was encoded in 96kHz/24 bit PCM. I listed to the DVD-V version of the 1st and 5th movements on three differing hardware set-ups. Most of the following comments are based on the DVD-A version. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is excellent, although lacking the attack, definition and clarity of its higher resolution rival.
The 1st movement starts with the double bass section laying down the interrogatory opening theme - this sounds clean, deep and authoritative - great! Except...hang on...they must have a plane to catch, as the tempo sounds about 15-20% faster than other recordings I'm familiar with and straight away some of the ponderous majesty and splendour of the work is lost. The recording continues at breakneck speed throughout the symphony and, (phew), scrapes in under the 80 minute CD recording limit at 78:29. The brass and percussion break in with dramatic effect and then come the strings for a little light relief - oh no! Sounds like someone's draped their scarf over the microphone! The recurring problems I had throughout this recording was that the strings (violin & violas) sounded somewhat glazed and distant and certainly lacked the marvellous clarity afforded to the woodwind and percussion.
The brass sections were usually good, but in high level sections there crept in an element of unpleasant harmonic dissonance which I found made prolonged listening very hard. My particular equipment setup is very transparent and neutral and I think interaction of the sonics of the venue, the ensemble and the recording produced some interference manifested by a tendency to cracking of high level brass and a screechiness of some of the upper registers of the violins. Unfortunately once you hear these aberrations, they subconsciously magnify with each listening and ultimately after an initial enthusiastic session, I found repeat performances difficult. Luckily, my local hi-fi shop (Thanks to fi!) allowed me to spend some time in their 'high-level' lounge, and listening to the DVD on their Sonus Faber speakers and new NAD Silverline equipment certainly smoothed out some of the extraneous noise and made the performance a whole lot more enjoyable.
The solo performances of the soprano, Nancy Gustafson and contralto Florence Quivar were excellently rendered by this recording. The Prague Philharmonic Choir's chorale support fared the same fate as the violins and sounded distant and rather muffled - although the dramatic finale with deep bass organ and crashing percussion weren't exactly conducive to high resolution definition of their performance.
The surround channels were tastefully and discretely utilised to increase the ambience of the performance but you were never in any doubt that you were located in the auditorium (right front about 10 rows back I'd say!). Some trickery was used in the percussion with the odd crash or thump jumping out of a rear surround and they were nicely used in the 2nd movement with some of the distant call and response of the Wunderhorn (actually French horns) reverberating diagonally across the room from front main to opposite rear surround.
With all the drama and percussion, I was surprised at the low level use of the subwoofer - I had to wander over from time to time to 'check its pulse' (fondle its speaker cone!) to see if it was still alive. It was used to reasonable effect in some of the drum rolls and also the organ bass heard in the final movement.
|Surround Channel Use|
Choice of movement or five subdivisions of the last movement scherzo. 1.33:1 ratio in NTSC.
Only accessible on the DVD-A tracks - 3-4 pages of production notes from a 1903 performance.
2 pages of helpful notes on the opera and further page of biographical notes on Zubin Mehta and the two sopranos.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
As is usual, at present, low volume of sales worldwide of DVD-A and limited production facilities mean that there is a universal identical release in all regions.
This is a phenomenal piece of music by one of the lesser-known musical greats. It has been given an accelerated performance by Zubin Mehta, possibly for technical CD production reasons. Personally, I find the slower versions more to my taste.
The video still quality is excellent though limited.
The audio quality is excellent though playback through my home system produced some problems.
|DVD||Toshiba SD-900E, using RGB output|
|Display||Pioneer SD-T50W1 (127cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Naim AV2. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Amplification||Theta Digital Intrepid|
|Speakers||ML Aeon front. B&W LRC6 Centre. ML Script rear. REL Strata III SW.|