Having nursed the Minnesota Orchestra through its near-death experience, Osmo Vänskä has now announced his departure. But he leaves his band in excellent shape, if this Mahler Resurrection is anything to go by.

His overall timing of almost 84 minutes is relatively leisurely but, apart from the slow sections of the always challenging first movement (which he takes very slowly indeed) most of it is quite fast. Yet he manages to create a highly ominous atmosphere and a credible pulse, without the incomparable grimness and granitic, implacable quality Klemperer imparts to the movement in his almost 60-year-old EMI recording.

The minuet is beautifully paced and inflected, with an especially winsomely nostalgic pizzicato ‘tiptoe through the tulips’ passage and impressive portamento from an orchestra I always regard as Scandinavian by instinct.

The Scherzo is Mahler’s most virtuosic movement, along with the Ninth’s Rondo-Burleske, and the Minnesotans acquit themselves brilliantly in this dance of death. Mezzo Sasha Cooke is radiant in the Urlicht and the off-stage horns are finely captured, but I concur with two other reviews that remark on the distant sound of the bells, which lack the usual impact. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a pianissimo as soft when the choir enters but the final effect is overwhelming (as it almost invariably is). The sound is excellent (apart from those bells!) A very good, but not quite great, Mahler Two.

Composer: Mahler
Composition: Symphony No 2 
Performer: Minnesota Orchestra/Vänskä
Catalogue Number: BIS BIS2296

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