This Dutton transfer of the famous 1938 live performance is the way to hear this recording. Mike Dutton has done a remarkable job in limiting the suface noice from the 78rpm recordings whilst keeping the dynamic range as wide as possible. Dutton has a superb way of showing just how much "information" there is to be found in 78rpm grooves and this is one of his better jobs.
Walter's swan-song remake of 1961 Bruno Walter Conducts and Talks About Mahler Symphony No. 9
(only available at very high price from Amazon Marketplace vendors at the moment) never reached the blazing intensity of expression that makes this performance so special. In 1961 we have a noble "farewell" conducted by a much older man who had seen much pain and grief in the 23 years between his Mahler 9 recordings. In 1938 we have the work expressed as a modern expressionistic piece where anger and dread go hand in hand until the wonderful finale.
The political situation well explains this, with the sense of gathering doom that must have been on the minds of the performers. Amongst other things, this is the last time that the pre-war Vienna Philahrmonic ever played together and the political situation before the Anschluss made concert-going something of a luxurious irrelevance. By the time the German annexation was over, all the Jewish members of the orchestra who could had fled to Paris or America - including Walter, of course, who at the time of the recording had seen the writing on the wall for he had already been replaced as director of the Dresden Orchestra by Richard Strauss, entirely because of his Jewishness.
Anybody having heard this performance will surely really only value interpretations of the Mahler 9 that stress LINE and FLOW. The performance clocks in at about 71 minutes, six minutes less than the magnificent Haitink/Concertgebouw 1969 disc Mahler: Symphony No.9/Das Lied von der Erde
, which in its simple dedication is remarkably moving because it lets the music speak for itself. Karel Ancerl/Czech Philharminic on Superaphon Karel Ancerl Gold Edition Vol.33. Mahler: Symphony No. 9
and Raphael Kubelik from his full set of Mahler symphonies Mahler: Complete Symphonies
on DGG (a remarkable performance undervalued by many critics) ir or the slightly less "tightly put together" Audite recording Mahler: Symphony No. 9 (Symphonie-Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Kubelik)
also provide intensely involving one-disc performances. Another fine version (but with rather scrappy playing in places) that demonstrates a great sense of line in Barbirolli's Berlin Philharmonic disc on EMI Symphony No.9 (Barbirolli, Bpo)
. I have mentioned these discs in order of preference (the Haitink being my major stereo recommendation) but none of them matches the sheer emotional power of Walter in 1938, good as they all are.
The hugely dramatic first movement dies away to a gentle ending and is followed the the "clumsy and awkward" Scherzo. There is real sardonic anger here and, in the third and final section, the conductor and orchestra work up a whirlwind of passion. The fact that the orchestra only just keep up is part of the thrill of this unique performance.
Much the same cam be said of the Rondo-Burleske. I defy anyone to find a more pungent interpretation. And then the Walter miracle occurs. Bruno Walter had a way of playing slow music up to a quite fast tempo whilst still making the music deeply and profoundly moving. Another example of this is the Adagietto from his 1940's recording of Mahler 5 Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5 (Walter, Nypo, Halban)
which I believe should be the benchmark for all other performances - as this utterly moving Mahler 9 Adagio should be, also. If you look at timings for this movement on discs and you come across anything more that about 23 minutes, then there is a likelihoon that the conductor will drag out the music in an attempt for profundity. This is not always the case and Karajan gets away with almost half an hour in his performances Mahler: SYMPHONY NO. 9 & Kindertotenlieder / KARAJAN
(the analog studion performance, which I prefer) or Mahler: Symphony No.9
(the live performance from the Philharmonie, that I have always thought sounds more stilted than the studio version). Surely this music is revealed in all its greatness by Walter's almost chaste approach to it? There is absolutely no "laid on" emotion here and the greatness of the performance is, consequently, palpable.
Make no mistake: this really is as good as I am saying. If you wanted my REAL "star rating" for this it would have to be at least 8! Don't worry about the sound: luxuriate in one of the most poignant musical moments of the Twntieth Century, superbly recreated for us by Fred Gaisberg in 1938 and remastered brilliantly by Mike Dutton. This is a marvel.