Mahler Symphony No. 2 – Orchestra of the Music Makers, Chan Tze Law

MAHLER Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection” • Tze Law Chan, cond; Ae-Ree Jeong (sop); Rebecca Chellappah (mez);
Queensland Fest C; Singapore Fest C; Music Makers O • OMM LIVE! (78:28) Live: Singapore 7/10/2010
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I wasn’t able to attend this performance as I was overseas, but I wish I had as it is one of the fresher performances I have heard of this (now) oft-played symphony in a while. The confident young orchestra musicians put up quite a performance, with Chan Tze Law leading them with a generally steady hand. The complex opening funeral march movement is navigated with authority and the music feels lived-in, with some really good playing, especially in the lower strings, crucial in this symphony. Tempi are brisk and in style I was most often reminded of Haitink – straightforward and not too interventionist – Chan comes off better when he doesn’t pull the music around too much; when he does it can sometimes come across a little practiced. A little atmospheric lead time before the music started in the first movement wouldn’t have hurt, but that’s just a quibble. The recording sounds multi-miked.

The Andante moderato and Scherzo that follow tend to shy away from Mahler’s humour and acerbic wit, but aside from minor ensemble issues the players again have a good feel for the music. Sometimes I wish Chan would allow the music to breathe a little, relax, but there is sufficient contrast between the preceding first movement and the subsequent two to make its mark. Winds, always important in the Scherzo, make their presence felt quite well indeed, with the solo bits taken with much character.

The ‘Urlicht’ is the make-or-break, the core of this symphony, to me, and I’m afraid Rebecca Chellappah, the mezzo here, was its weak point. Slightly soft-edged German, coupled with a lack of resonance and long line, a slightly quick vibrato, as well as Chan sometimes going ahead with his own quick tempo and not supporting the soloist as much as he could, made this movement rather disappointing, for me, a bit of a pity, since there was some really nice balance in the brass chorale. This movement can be truly cosmic in the right voice; not here.

Despite some mishaps and tiredness evident especially (and understandably) in the brass, the epic Finale is a laudable attempt at the movement. Again, generally quick tempi prevailed, right from the start of the movement, ensuring that momentum wasn’t lost – with a stronger orchestra this might have been different. The earth-shattering ‘march of the dead’ could have started stronger – the percussion sounding somewhat recessed and not quite playing as loud as it is possible, with some agogics  here that I would rather not have had, but spirited it was. I would have preferred the off-stage band sounding actually off-stage, here they sometimes obscured the prevailing musical lines.

The grosser Appell again showed tiredness in the brass, with some lack of concentration, but with generally accurate playing otherwise.

That brings us to the choral section, a bold move which Mahler took right off Beethoven’s Ninth, but made his own. Here there are balancing problems in the recording which may not have been present in the concert hall – the soprano practically obliterates the rest of the choir, which itself sounds rather small here. A beat in the voice and some swoops up to notes make her rather unideal for me, though her lyric voice is otherwise suitable for the part. Her singing lacks urgency,  which the conductor, choir and orchestra demonstrate winningly in the final climax. With the gorgeous Esplanade Klais organ, Chan doesn’t drag it out as some conductors like to do, but brings it to its conclusion with necessary gravitas and power.

A very good performance, then, coming from a youth orchestra. It doesn’t quite storm the heavens the way, for example, some of the greats (Tennstedt, Klemperer, Barbirolli) do, but in all, a very creditable record of a live performance.

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