Chicago Symphony Orchestra
Bernard Haitink’s three-year interregnum as the Chicago Symphony principal conductor has been a revelation. Not only has the 80-year-old maintained impossibly high standards in the house that Teddy built, he’s also shown that behind this bold and brash world-beater of an orchestra lies a suave and subtle ensemble.
The Dutchman’s accomplished this between the much ballyhooed tenure of music director Daniel Barenboim and Riccardo Muti’s upcoming term. In 2007, the orchestra’s in-house label sprung into existence at just the right time to document this interlude, and a growing Mahler recording cycle (Nos. 1, 3, 6 and now 2) may come to define Haitink’s partnership with the CSO.
Contrasts in this sprawling, episodic “Resurrection” symphony are not sharply drawn; for those who prefer to invigorate the senses and wake the neighbors, Sir Georg Solti and the CSO’s harder-edged 1984 Decca recording is a more attractive alternative. The sound levels are set at a softer pitch, and the dizzying hell plunge that closes the opening movement almost waltzes about. The andante is brisk and pleasant, a far cry from Leonard Bernstein’s milking of every note.
This recording shows how Mahler’s sound-world richly materializes from a void and progresses toward an inevitable end. Mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn delicately intones the “Urlicht,” and the vaunted CSO Chorus is a spectral presence. Miah Persson’s soprano adds depth and splendor in the last movement’s vocal duos, and when the speaker-shattering choral climax arrives, the payoff is a holy embrace.