MAHLER:  Symphony No. 2 in C Minor "Resurrection."  Adagio from Symphony No. 10 (Ratz edition)
Barbara Bonney, soprano; Mary Phillips, mezzo-soprano; Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Yoel Levi, cond.
TELARC 80548 (2 CDs for price of 1) (S) TT:  1 hr. 49:31

Yoel Levi marked his departure from the Atlanta directorship in 2000 with performances of the Resurrection. This recording was begun at that same time, but the original soprano soloist was apparently deemed unsatisfactory, with Barbara Bonney coming in to re-record those sections of the score in January 2002. Thus this album's delayed lope out of the starting gate.

The performance, as with much of Levi's Mahler, follows standard, traditional markers of tempo, phrasing, and so forth. But this is by no means routine in a jaded, get-the-job-done sense: Levi projects the score musically, with the occasional perceptive touch enhancing the overall design. In the first-movement development, the holding back for the march's dotted rhythms presages the spirit, as well as the theme, of the Finale's death-march, and the gradual accelerations a bit later are nicely gauged. But everything is not so keenly handled. The first movement’s second theme isn't ideally serene, and the fade before the development only hints at the desolation which should contrast starkly with the ensuing outburst. Similarly, the strings flick too hastily at their double accacciature in the second movement, and the pizzicato reprise is charming rather than spooky. The last two movements fare best, realizing a wide emotional range and capping the performance with rousing grandeur.

This performance's delayed release gives us the opportunity to compare the orchestra's playing under Levi with that under his successor, Robert Spano, who already has two Telarc recordings to his credit (Scheherazade on CD 80568, and Vaughan Williams's Sea Symphony on CD-80588). Spano unquestionably has the consistently fresher interpretive slant and draws cleaner ensemble from the players as well, but the lean, precisely drawn sonority points up the slightly shortstaffed string sections. Levi's conducting sounds less crystal-clear - the violin triplets aren't quite together with the pulsing horns in the second movement, for example - but the cushioned string sound that results is, paradoxically, the more convincing. His naturally flowing manner carries the performance over passing coordination problems, and the climaxes arrive with plenty of power.

Beyond that, the orchestra frequently sounds very good: full-throated, evenly balanced brasses make their mark in the last two movements, and the woodwinds are round and lovable in the L”ndler. Intonation, oddly, is a bit below par: the oboe lets out a few flat notes in the first-movement recap, and in the third movement's jubilant outbursts, the brasses are tuned distinctly higher than the answering woodwinds.

Both soloists sing well and expressively. Bonney's vibrant soprano turns out to be worth the wait. Mary Phillips's quick vibrato at the start of Urlicht is disconcerting, but her plangent voice opens out passionately, and she and Bonney are well-matched in their brief duet. The Atlanta chorus sounds good, its initial entries soft and clean, but not exaggeratedly hushed.

Levi plays the Adagio from the unfinished Tenth Symphony in the now discredited Erwin Ratz edition, though casual listening will detect little difference between this and, say, the Deryck Cooke performing realization. The music sings ardently; but a bit more breadth, and more attention to the soft end of the dynamic range, would not have been amiss.

Telarc's sound, as usual, conveys the big crashes with depth and impact, but is pleasing in the quieter passages as well. The pronounced directional effect, however, doesn't add much to a performance where all the violins are on the left.

S.F.V. (October 2002)