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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly-Charged Concerto for Orchestra, 24 Mar 2007
Colin Fortune (Birmingham, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Mahler: Symphony No. 9 (Audio CD)
There is no doubting the passion and commitment in the conducting and playing on this disc and one marvels at the precision and discipline that the orchestra manages in the Scherzo and Rondo-Burleske (movements #2 and #3. All the movements are fast and highly-coloured: a friend listening to the disc with me remarked (approvingly)that the Andante commodo movement (#1)was the most disturbed and nervy that he had ever heard. The great final Adagio, with some wonderfully rich string playing, takes just over 22 minutes (as in Walter 1938 and Barbirolli 1965) and has a flowing sense of momentum. The exception to this is the endings of the two outer movements, where the bustle and brilliance subside into wraptly gorgeous and sensitive playing.

So this is a performance that takes a highly expressionistic view of Mahler 9 from the very outset, and sticks to it relentlessly for about 78 minutes, fitting easily onto one CD. My friend was overwhelmed by it. I disliked it intensely.

The four-star rating I have given reflects the quality of the playing and the dedication of orchestra and conductor rather than any personal liking on my part, whilst also recognising that many people will be deeply thrilled by this particular approach to the symphony. But even had I liked the interpretation I do not feel that the disc deserves five stars because of the very close-up recording, made in the difficult sonic venue of the Berliner Philharmonie hall. In fairness the hall sounds like a hi-fi recording when you are at a live concert - a view first expressed by the friend with whom I listened to the disc and who really liked it when we were there together three years ago.

I wonder how "live" this performance is? My suspicion is that the endings of the outer movements were recorded again and added seamlessly to the interpretations that must have thrilled the concert listeners (the almost obligatory cough at a concert performance in the closing pianissimos of the work is not present). The adrenelin rush subsides remarkable quickly into the codas of these movements. Were both endings recorded at the same time? They are both equally yearning and tranquil.

Barenboim's view is the exact contrary to performances that wish to stress the "transcendental" quality of the music - Karajan's two recordings (neither of which I like by the way), Bertini and Bernstein in the closing Adagio. This is highly-charged, almost angry Mahler for much of the performance.

I can only suggest that you try to listen to the disc before buying. You may be utterly thrilled and deeply moved, as was my friend. As for me, I shall stick with Haitink and Kubelik as my firm recommendations (in that order) and I was glad to make a present of the Barenboim disc to my friend who had been so excited by a listening experience that was, to me, a little bit like being continually hit over the head.
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Mahler: Symphony No. 9
Mahler: Symphony No. 9 by Various Artists (Audio CD - 2007)
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