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Mahler - Symphony No. 9 Hybrid SACD, SACD

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The San Francisco Symphony, one of America's most forward-looking arts organizations, presents over 220 concerts each year, creates leading edge media initiatives such as Keeping Score on PBS television and its own Grammy-winning record label SFS Media, and serves its community with one of the most extensive education and community programs of any orchestra in the country. Led by its ... Read more in Amazon's San Francisco Symphony Store

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Product details

  • Audio CD (19 Dec. 2008)
  • Please Note: Requires SACD-compatible hardware
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Format: Hybrid SACD, SACD
  • Label: SFS Media
  • ASIN: B0007YMUFC
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 410,699 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Disc 1:

Song TitleArtist Time Price
Listen  1. Symphony No. 9 in D Major: I. Andante comodoMichael Tilson Thomas30:31£0.79  Buy MP3 
Listen  2. Symphony No. 9 in D Major: II. Im Tempo eines gemächlichen LändlersMichael Tilson Thomas17:04£0.79  Buy MP3 

Disc 2:

Song TitleArtist Time Price
Listen  1. Symphony No. 9 in D Major: III. Rondo burleskeMichael Tilson Thomas13:58£0.79  Buy MP3 
Listen  2. Symphony No. 9 in D Major: IV. AdagioMichael Tilson Thomas27:49£0.79  Buy MP3 

Product Description

Music Director Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony release the latest instalment in their acclaimed Mahler symphony cycle, the epic Symphony No. 9. Written in the last two years of the composer's life, Tilson Thomas has called the work "perhaps the most important and emotionally satisfying farewell symphony in all of music." The 2-CD set was recorded live in San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall, in a concert the San Francisco Chronicle called "a performance for the ages...this may well be the crowning achievement of the entire project." As with all other releases in the MTT/SFS Mahler cycle, Symphony No. 9 benefits from Direct Stream Digital recording technology and release in Hybrid SACD format. The critically acclaimed MTT/SFS Mahler cycle has garnered two Grammy Awards. All five previous releases have graced the Top Ten of the Billboard Classical Chart.

Critical acclaim for the MTT/SFS Mahler symphony cycle:
"This is probably the best-played and most vividly engineered recording of Mahler's First Symphony I've yet heard." - Gramophone on Symphony No. 1

"More than matches the award-winning quality of past releases in the series." - Music Week on Symphony No. 2

"The knockout factors here are the orchestra's playing...and the spacious clarity of the sound." - Classic fM magazine on Symphony No. 3

"One to rank alongside the blistering performance of the Sixth" - BBC Music Magazine * * * * * / * * * * *, Benchmark Recording on Symphony No. 4

"This has to be among the finest Mahler recordings ever made." - BBC Music Magazine on Symphony No. 6

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By rjmcr on 16 Sept. 2010
Format: Audio CD
This SACD Mahler series from San Francisco has been a huge disappointment so far but I am pleased to say that this recording of the Ninth Symphony is actually pretty good. I had expected it to be ruined by glacial tempos and heavy-handed rubato but, despite it being one of the slower accounts on disc, it doesn't feel excessively long.

The first movement comes off very well with the San Francisco orchestra sounding more expressive and characterful than in any of the previous instalments in this series, bar the opening Sixth. The strings, in particular, sound far more edgy and alert after sleepwalking their way through most of the other symphonies. There are still a few lapses; the passage after the horns' entry around seven minutes in, when the sparse orchestral fragments are gradually knitted together, lacks variation and momentum, and a slow tempo towards the end almost dissolves the music into a pulseless blur but, on the whole, this is a competent and well-played account.

The two inner movements present a few more problems, derived mainly from some questionable tempo choices and the conductor's transitions between them. Tilson Thomas really does trip over his own rubato at times, with a particularly ham-fisted and gear-crunching segue into the first Trio of the second movement causing an awkward hiatus, and his Rondo-Burleske third movement lacks an obvious underlying tempo, with the music's ever-increasing bitterness and savagery instead undermined by the constant application of ritardando and accelerando.

However, the fourth movement is on much stronger ground and, I think, the most convincing movement in this entire series so far.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By mike the wizard on 5 Sept. 2008
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
For me this is a favourite, if not a definitive Mahler 9th. Stunning recording quality, ravishing string tone, limpid woodwind solos, overall excellence from the San Francisco Symphony who play their hearts out for Tilson Thomas with an unusual mix of passion and control which suits his interpretation ideally. There is plenty of satisfying, perfectly-placed emotion at climaxes but a lot of detailed precision playing, especially in the two inner movements. The relaxed tempo for the 2nd-movt Landler provides some magical sostenuto playing of great tenderness while the 'fugato' passages of the 3rd-movt rondo burleske are done with wit and intellectual vigour. The culminating Adagio does not disappoint either: it is all of a piece with this very convincing interpretation. Those who like their Mahler in good modern sound, with a great balance between the highs and lows of human emotion, leading to ultimate transcendence, should add this to their collection without delay. Mahler's greatest symphony in a beautiful performance for our day.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. S. Bower on 1 Oct. 2010
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I had been holding off from reviewing MTT's Mahler cycle, but this one excited me sufficiently that I felt I had to comment.

This is a superb recording and performance in every way. Marshall McLuhan was talking nonsense (as usual) when he said 'the medium is the message'. In this ball game, it's all about the music: nothing more,nothing less. It matters not, ultimately wheher this was recorded in DSD, PCM or parrot food. Likewise, whether 2 or 200 mikes were used.

What does matter is that this is great music, superbly played, and that the SACD and reproducing equipment manage to get out of the way of that music.

MTT seems to be a true Mahlerian; he perfectly balances long-term structure and short-term effect. He also wears his heart on his sleeve, as one has to in this impassioned music, but manages not to overdo it.

The playing matches his conception, and is excellent throughout.

Likewise, this is an impeccable recording of a large orchestra. It is essentially truthful and transparent, with good staging and instrumental dimensionality. Dynamic range is 'concert hall' - accurate, and the string tone ravishing. In particular, this allows the sublime farewell of the final movement to sing, literally.

This recording made me spontaneously start to conduct. It's that good.

No brainer. 5 stars all round. Bravo!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 9 reviews
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
Almost 13 April 2005
By Prescott Cunningham Moore - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Michael Tilson Thomas is a phenomenal music director. He inherited the San Francisco Symphony in 1995 and has, since then, turned the band, which was already quite accomplished under Herbert Blomstedt's tutelage, into a world class ensemble in the truest since. Despite its few (but glaring) weakness - bad flutes and violins that tend towards thinness - the San Francisco Symphony boasts consistently fine playing and musically intelligent contributions from the soloists - droll clarinets, boisterous bassoons, a horn section second to none, beautiful lower strings, and rich, big toned lower brass. Listening to this ensemble - an ensemble in the truest sense of the word - is always a joy. But orchestral perfection will only get you so far, and in this gorgeously played 9th, Thomas prevents this performance from becoming something really special. On the whole, it is still a wonderful 9th, but ultimately one that will not go down as one of the great recordings of this symphony.

Objectively looking at Michael Tilson Thomas's ongoing Mahler cycle has been increasingly difficult for me mainly because, the more familiar I become with Thomas's conducting style, the more egregious the apparent faults become. Thomas's penchant for rubato and mannered stylization started off as an interesting, if unnecessary, detail in the 6th and 1st symphonies. It became a bit more problematic in the 3rd. And finally, it became irritatingly obnoxious in the 7th and 5th symphonies. Thomas's insistence on smothering his interpretations with a thick coat of decorative frosting and fussy, mannered detail leaves a fluffy, decadent, at times even saccharine aftertaste which belies the often overwhelmingly high-level of musical nourishment these recordings offer. Indeed, nearly every other musical choice Thomas makes is a good one - it's just a shame he cannot discern between the good and bad.

Here, in this most beautiful 9th, Thomas finds one of his better balances between structure and mannerism. Indeed, despite being one of the slowest 9th on disc, this performance shows Thomas making intelligent, sensitive choices, judiciously accenting important musical lines while remaining (relatively) faithful to the letter of the score. While this performance certainly does not match Bernstein's physicality measure for measure nor do the inner movements, where Chailly (Decca) and Barenboim (Warner) succeed, ring out quite like they should, this is still a 9th that has more than enough to say to justify its deserved success.

The first movement is simply one of the most gorgeous performances ever to grace this symphony. Thomas clearly takes great pains to maintain pristine instrumental balance, which results in shimmering orchestral opulence. The climaxes - especially the pesante outburst - are prepared and executed flawlessly, the coda is appropriately dreamy, and the orchestra creates some really dark, murky sounds when necessary. Yet, Thomas purchases this sonic perfection at a price. Due to his insistence on micromanaging every aspect of the score, Thomas allows tension to plateau at several points throughout the movement. This is a small complaint, considering the tension never actually snags, but it prevents Mahler's great transitional sequences from taking shape. For example, Thomas's opening flows, moving towards the first climax with slow, but focused determination, growing in strength and power. But just compare his opening to Bernstein's opening with the Concertgebouw (DG) where the music does not simply flow, it unfolds in such a natural and logical way that it makes Thomas's opening seem somewhat stagnant. This is, of course, a matter of taste (and a small matter at that), but it is, none-the-less what stubbornly keeps Thomas's Mahler from reaching epic status - his inability to really let go and focus on the bigger picture.

The second and third movements suffer from the same problems that plague the first movement. Thomas shapes a wonderful waltz and transitions into the Landler magically, coaxing some beautiful sounds from the orchestra. He takes his time throughout the movement, but it never sounds slow or labored - Thomas masterfully proportions the various episodes within the movement as a whole, which sound effortlessly logical and satisfying in his hands. But the orchestra is polished to a level of perfection that robs the movement' of its basic idiomatic power. The waltz isn't quite sleazy enough, the winds don't squeal and whine as much as they should, and the percussion is stubbornly tame except in forte. Again, a matter of taste, as the movement is still appropriately characteristic, ironic, and energetic with some irresistible drive. The same holds true for the Rondo. Great ensemble perfection, perfectly proportioned outer sections, a particularly introspective central episode, and a pretty exciting closing section. Yet it never reaches the level of visceral physicality that (it seems) Thomas is trying to generate. He cannot let his orchestra make an ugly sound and therein lies the problem. This movement does not sound nasty enough, especially when compared to any number of other successful recordings, including Bernstein (DG), Chailly (Decca), Barenboim (Warner), or Gielen (Hanssler). If Thomas had just let his orchestra make a more appropriately idiomatic sound, this would have been a performance for the ages.

As expected, this is probably as lovely a finale as you are ever going to hear, one that features some pretty plush string playing, some chilling "dead" episodes, and a particularly effective, hushed close. Thomas not only balances the timing of this movement against the first (both hover around half an hour), but also contrasts the moods of these movements with great effect. This prevents the symphony from sounding top heavy or uneven and shows that Thomas does possess a great sense of musical line. A wonderful and fitting close to a performance that was, on the whole, quite wonderful.

When all is said and done, this is still a fabulous 9th, aided in no small part by the glorious sounds of the San Francisco Symphony, which really offers the last word in orchestral polish. For the most part, the winds have character, the strings are full-bodied, and the brass is uniformly spectacular. Overall, their music director is quite well versed in Mahler and there is, despite all the shortcomings, a profundity of incite here. It succeeds on so many levels, in fact, that it is so frustrating that this performance wasn't better. Still, this is a winning interpretation and certainly one of the high-points of Thomas's ongoing cycle with his orchestra. Recommended.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A qualified thumbs up 9 Oct. 2009
By THREEWIRE - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
At the outset, I should note that I am reviewing the 24-bit, 96 kHz PCM master from downloaded from iTraxx. While PCM and not DSD, I would assume my version is similar in sound to the DSD SACD version. My system consists of iTunes, with an Apogee DAC, Outlaw amplification, and Paradigm Monitor 7s, with a Paradigm 10" sub.


This is very much a multi-miked, super-sized recording. Spotlight miking appears to have been used throughout the orchestra, most notably with the woodwinds and the basses. As such, many details hidden in other recordings are easily heard here, although at least some of that may be attributable to Thomas' interpretation or the work, which does at times highlight lines not usually emphasized in other interpretations. There is excellent bass extension, although the mid-bass feels a bit muddy. This is especially apparent with the tympani, which occasionally are obscured entirely. Also poorly caught are the cellos -- an essentially component to Mahler's sound pallet. Midway through the Second Movement, a critical solo cello performance feels buried behind the woodwinds, creating a confusing orchestral image. One would have thought that this cello line would have been emphasized in the mix. All this said, the overall balance of the orchestra is satisfyingly forward and brightly lit, without being grainy or harsh (notwithstanding a few odd notes here or there that unduly pop out of the mix). The soundstage is invitingly wide, but given the rather forward balance of the orchestra as a whole, soundstage depth feels somewhat compressed at times; especially during louder passages.


There is no denying that the San Francisco Orchestra has risen to world-class levels. The playing throughout is excellent. Given the forward and (largely) detailed nature of the recording, there was nowhere to hide a poor individual performance. The woodwinds bear up to the high level of scrutiny the recording provides the listener. The brass play with great weight and authority, while the strings sound polished and, at times, opulent. The orchestra bears the load of Mahler's score with the poise and panache expected from a truly top-tier band. The San Francisco players should be proud of the their achievement, with great credit to Michael Tilson Thomas' leadership.


It is often said that Mahler's 9th is "top-heavy:" with the breathtakingly inspired First Movement overwhelming the rest of the work. In my favorite performances, however, I never found this to be the case. Alas, it feel so here. Thomas does indeed do the First Movement proud. There are some minor quibbles, but largely the movement has sweep and grandeur, punctuated by terror and even great charm. The Second Movement, while not taken as fast on the whole, feels too rushed for the parody to be fully realized. The Third Movement is so frenetic that some of the brilliance of Mahler's contrapuntal mastery is lost, with the respite of the gorgeous middle section feeling more like a syrupy interlude than a glimpse into inner peace to be found in the final movement. The last third of the Rondo sounds scattered and confused -- almost more possessed by demons than beset by them. The last movement seems to find Thomas back on solid ground, and the performance concludes with a poignant sense of quiet acceptance.

Overall, this is a fine addition to the catalogue. I am increasingly convinced that there are no definitive Mahler performances, only a long line of valid interpretations. So broad and deep was Mahler's vision that likely no performance can be viewed as entirely authoritative and definitive. Thus, where I might find this performance less convincing, others may be fully persuaded. Suffice it to say that this is not another routine reading of this work, but a unique, deeply felt, and fully realized interpretation. I may not have been completely convinced by some of the performance, but that does not temper my enthusiasm for this fresh take on Mahler's 9th, one deserving of respect and admiration.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A Well-performed, Well-recorded Mahler 9 Just Shy of Great 12 April 2005
By Grady Harp - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Michael Tilson Thomas continues his excellent survey of the Mahler Symphonies with this beautiful reading of the valedictory Ninth. There are so many passages of magnificent orchestral playing and attention to previously ignored details that it is sad to say that ultimately this Mahler 9 is not the profoundly moving work on recording that it has been in Tilson Thomas' concerts.

The outer movements - Andante comodo and the closing Adagio are carefully sculpted and paced and are equal to most other recordings of this very tough and long work. Tilson Thomas knows what he wants from his orchestra and they play with uncommon sensitivity to some of the softest passages ever recorded without losing the line of thought or melody. The opening movement is richly reflective on a life Mahler knew was drawing to a close and Tilson Thomas makes the most of these reflective passages, finding not only the angst but the smiles of memory of past works. The closing Adagio is heart-wrenchingly slow and yet makes total sense in the way the final moments are drawn out into space with little heard of the last suggestions of notes in the ether of space. This final movement is wondrous and probing and exquisitely powerful.

The inner movements find Tilson Thomas returning to some of his more idiosyncratic traits of overemphasizing ralentandos and diminuendos and both movements are taken are tempi that rush and then fall away in a manner that draws more attention to the performance than the Mahler intentions. These are indeed personal reactions and for many they may not be problematic. For this reviewer, having heard Tilson Thomas perform this symphony live and with the information that this recording is taken form live performances in Davies Hall in San Francisco, it seems that these are truly Tilson Thomas' views of the concept of the composer, and yet these moments break the great arch of the entire symphonic statement.

In all this is a lush recording and certainly one that is among the best available on CD. And for both devotees of Mahler and of Michael Tilson Thomas this new release is a welcome addition to the library . The recording is a Hybrid Multichannel SACD and can comfortably be played on both SACD and regular CD players. Grady Harp, April 05.
8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
I love it 28 April 2005
By MasterG - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Michael Tilson Thomas's Mahler cycle has, in my opinion, been somewhat inconsistent in quality from symphony to symphony. This is probably one of his best so far though - this is one of Mahler's best works and MTT shows just how much care and thought he put into making this rendition a moving, powerful, and personal account of this great symphony. This conductor is not one to follow what is in the score exactly as there are personal touches all over the place. Sometimes this has not been very effective in other Mahler performances by MTT, but I think in this case it comes off quite successfully. Tempos are chosen well (although I would have liked to have heard more accelerando at the end of the 3rd movement) and the orchestra's playing is generally top-notch. Although there are other great performances of this symphony available on disc, I personally have really fallen in love with this version and would highly recommend it.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Everything is in place, but there's little depth, soul, or tragedy 2 Jan. 2010
By Santa Fe Listener - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Winston Churchill famously said of one of his predecessors, Stanley Baldwin, that he always hit the nail on the head, but the nail didn't go in. Having attended one of the concerts that gave rise to this recording, I'd say the same for Tilson Thomas's conducting of the Mahler Ninth. Everything is nicely in place. Ensemble is smooth; there are no eccentricities of tempo or phrasing. In all, an impeccable job. But the actual point of the Mahler Ninth, its turbulence, wild contrasts, angst, pity, sorrow, and yearning, is not much in evidence. I can't judge if MTT feels the depth of this score, but I certainly don't when he plays it. The SFSO isn't a world-class orchestra, accomplished as they are, and they play well enough without reaching real distinction. Only the final Adagio reveals a serious lack of richness and strength in the string body, but the conductor has so little to offer emotionally that this hardly matters.

I'm glad for MTT that he enjoys a loyal, vocal, numerous fan base, but the Mahler Ninth calls for much more than a dapper smoothing out. This is like King Lear on roller skates. Despite the five-star brigade, I could only accept this recording as a great Ninth if I hadn't heard both Abbado recordings, both of Karajan's, three from Bernstein, two from Levine, the recent Rattle from Berlin, the Klemperer, the historic Bruno Walter from Vienna and the late stereo remake from Los Angeles, the Giulini from Chicago....no need to go on. Tilson Thomas is a talented conductor faced with giants as rivals.
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