MAHLER: Symphony No. 2 in C minor "Resurrection"
Latonia Moore, soprano; Nadja Michael, mezzo-soprano; Wiener Singverein; Wiener Philharmoniker/Gilbert Kaplan, cond.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON B0000098902 (2 CDs for the price of one) (DDD) TT: 85:48

In July 1987, Gilbert Kaplan—a wealthy American magazine publisher—recorded the Mahler Second in London with the LSO and Chorus, contralto Maureen Forrester, and the late Benita Valente as his soloists. Conifer released it in November 1988 to salvos of praise, and to date it has sold more copies than any other single Mahler recording by anybody. This would be amazing were Kaplan a professional musician, but he is not, nor has he conducted anything else by Mahler with the single exception of the “Adagietto” from Symphony No.5, released in 1992—nor music by any other composer, for that matter. He is a Mahler maven whose passion for the Second Symphony has inspired a search for all changes the composer made in this score as late as 1910, just a year before his death. Having discovered some 200, he published them in September of last year as the International Mahler Society’s official version.

All had been collected, however, when he made a new recording of No. 2 last November-December, this time with the Vienna Philharmonic and Singverein, for Deutsche Grammophon.The opening movement is complete on the first CD (Mahler himself suggested a pause in performance at this point), the remaining four movements on the second CD. This time the soloists are satisfactory but less distinguished than before: soprano Latonia Moore (1999 winner of the Met and Richard Tucker competitions), and German soprano Nadja Michael. As for Kaplan, before considering this newest version, Google revealed that he was born March 3, 1941, and founded Institutional Investor in 1965 after studies at Duke University, the New School for Social Research and the NYU School of Law. He was publisher of the magazine until 1990, and editor-in-chief for three more years, although he sold it to Cap Cities in 1984 for $72 million. And then concentrated on conducting the Mahler Second, hiring Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center for his debut in 1982. It was a gala social occasion if not a musical milestone. But Kaplan persisted, learning by doing, and to date has led the “Resurrection” more than 50 times throughout the world, including the first performance in China. In fact, this is being written on the eve of a sold-out performance by London’s Philharmonia Orchestra.

In his own program note, Kaplan advises not to expect major changes, although many details will register with those who know the music from previous editions—the most recent before his was published in 1970, with some but hardly all the material Kaplan and his co-editor, Renata Stark-Voit tracked throughout Europe, culminating in New York. I still use the Universal Edition of 1952, as do most in my business (especially as printing and sales costs have escalated even faster than the price of filet mignon over the years). Whether it is the additional materials or fruits of experience, Kaplan’s new version is 2:31 slower than his Conifer version. But there is no question that it is conducted: not even recording fees can bribe the Vienna Philharmonic to play better than a conductor asks for.

Here the VPO plays its heart out—astoundingly, even dumbfoundingly—with a singleness of technique and tonal richness not only appropriate for the subject matter but for posterity, as it were. The Singverein is comparably inspired and sonorous. As for the recording, it is simply stupendous, produced by Christian Granach and engineered by Rainer Maillard (with the assistance of three more engineers). I have never heard a more lifelike or natural acoustic on discs from the Musikvereinsaal. Having said which, Kaplan scales the heights like an Alpinist. There are, agreed, a few valleys in this performance—not lacking expression, mind you, but patches where a grand sense of destination is not yet spontaneous. Perhaps in concert performances they are, but here the second and third movements sound more concerned at moments with minutiae than Mahlerian vistas. That said, Kaplan’s accomplishment with the quintessential Mahler orchestra (by its own definition, although the players’ forbears mocked his music, even fired him as their conductor after three seasons) is one of the great “Resurrections” in the history of recording, going back to Oskar Fried at Berlin in 1924 (whose timing, by the way, was 83:05, just 12 minutes quicker than Kaplan’s first version on Conifer).

The question is: do you want another “Resurrection.” The answer is: How could you not, when it is an achievement of this caliber?

R.D. (November 2003)

(Editor Note: this recording soon will be released on SACD. Both the regular and SACD versions offer two CDs for the price of one full-priced disk)