This 2004 recording is of an account that shares characteristics with Herbig's account of the tenth symphony and therefore stands apart from others that are available. The recording itself is of good quality, although cut at a lower level than usual, and clearly shows the orchestra off in a good light with all sections playing well within their capability. To experience the recording at normal playback level it is necessary to increase the volume setting by 4 dB which adds greatly to the impact of the reading.
As with the tenth symphony, there is an element of restraint about this performance which, at first thought, may seem to be somewhat at odds with the normal more driven views of the work. That approach is best typified by Mravinsky's very raw and 'live' account. For a searingly dark reading there is also Sanderling's account to consider.
However, for the purposes of this review, the admired accounts by Haitink and Petrenko make for valid comparisons.
Herbig takes a less martial and openly biting, even aggressive, view of this symphony. That is not to say that its climaxes do not hit home. They do, but with a different emphasis and therefore emotional effect. Overall Herbig's account is longer than either Haitink or Petrenko but not by much in total - just over one minute. However, it is not the overall time that matters but the balance within it. Herbig takes the second and third movements at about the same speed as Haitink but with less aggressive bite. Instead his performance substitutes more of a crushing weight. This is also true of the martial climax towards the end of the first movement. In both of these instances the consequence is one of emotional exhaustion and despair. Petrenko takes a slower pace but is emotionally closer to Haitink.
Herbig's Opening Adagio and fourth movement Largo are both noticeably steadier in pace than either of the other two accounts and this reinforces the elements of despair, suffering and lament. The concluding fifth movement, despite being the fleetest of the three, is very restrained and offers little sense of peace, more of gentle resignation.
The nature of the recordings adds to these differences. Whereas Haitink has a bright and closely balanced Decca sound which has tremendous forward impact, and Petrenko has a bright Naxos recording, a little less forward than Decca but still with considerable immediate 'presence,' Herbig has a more restrained recording with more warmth to the orchestral textures. It is also cut at a markedly lower level that does it no favours. However, by raising the playback level by some 4 dB the recording comes fully into its own and one can appreciate the full range and weight of the playing.
This reading by Herbig is, like his reading of the tenth, somewhat of an individual view. In that way it is closer to both Sanderling and Mravinsky who also offer strikingly personal statements. Herbig has the best sound though and his reading delivers a thoughtful, satisfying and less martial view of this symphony that is convincing in its own way.
I would suggest that this recording would be a satisfying but alternative approach for collectors of multiple interpretations to collect. For those looking for a more central 'only' version in good modern sound, I would suggest that either Haitink or Petrenko would make a better first choice.