- Symphony No. 2 in C minor ("Resurrection")
Pierre Boulez's ever-illuminating Mahler cycle, which began in the mid-1990s, has saved the composer's grand vocal-orchestral works for last, ticking off in recent years the Third and Fourth Symphonies, Das Lied von der Erde, and now the Second Symphony, with its exalted choral culmination. (The only remaining work is the Eighth, the most "vocal" of all.) You'd expect this conductor to feel more of an affinity for the bleak modernism of a work like Mahler's Ninth, compared to the epic Romanticism that pervades the monumental "Resurrection" Symphony, but Boulez has clearly come to terms with this score, which receives a spectacularly dramatic performance here. The Vienna Philharmonic, as always, contributes a full-bodied orchestral luster to Mahler's music, and Boulez elicits a special vehemence from the orchestra in the moments of crisis -- the opening movement's development section and the traumatic climax of the Scherzo. In the symphony's second half, however, it's the singers' superb contributions that impress most: Michelle DeYoung has just the "earth mother" type of alto voice that "O röschen rot!" calls for, and when she's joined by soprano Christine Schäfer's soaring soprano and the Vienna Singverein, the finale goes over the top, just as it must. Refuting yet again the idea that this conductor values clinical precision over expression, Boulez gives in to the sublime grandeur of Mahler's rhetoric and serves up one of the most viscerally exciting of the Second Symphony's recent recordings.