To many, this is Mahler's supreme symphony, a final expression of the different facets of his personality, and one that offers a considerable challenge to would-be interpreters. On the face of it,neither the conductor not the orchestra featured here immediately come to mind when thinking of Mahler generally, and the list of great recordings of the 9th started by Walter and Barbirolli in the 1960s is already a lengthy one. But Saraste's version is in no way inferior to any of these, and forms a worthy addition to the catalogue. The Cologne orchestra too makes its mark. In the first movement, its strings reveal fine detail missed in many other recordings. The woodwind section catches the lilt of the Landler in the next movement, while the virtuosity of the orchestra as a team is displayed in the sarcastic Rondo-Burlesque, with the shrill tones of the Eb clarinet sending up the (anticipated here) main theme of the last movement, followed by a hell for leather race to the end. The finale, with its heart-breaking hymn, crowns this performance, with Saraste producing playing of great sensitivity in response to Mahler's detailed instructions. I was particularly impressed by the WDR Cologne horn section in this last movement.
In short, this is a version that has found the right balance between, on the one hand, sheer over-indulgence in Mahler's rich orchestral sound; and on the other, a lightweight, or emotionally uncommitted approach. Highly recommended.